House Panel Approves

Illegal-Immigration Bill

Legislation to choke off illegal immigration, at the border and in the workplace, cleared a key House committee yesterday despite strong objections from Democrats who said immigration reform must also deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The Judiciary Committee approved the measure on a party-line 23 to 15 vote. That set up a vote in the full House next week before Congress adjourns for the year.

The 169-page bill goes beyond increasing border patrol agents and equipment to enlist military support in border surveillance and reimburse local law enforcement in border areas for help in combating alien smuggling and illegal entry.

It requires the Homeland Security Department to detain until removal all who try to enter the country illegally and sets new mandatory minimum sentences on smugglers and people convicted of reentry after removal.

Illegal presence in the country, now a civil offense, would become a federal crime. Three convictions for drunken driving would become a deportable offense for legal immigrants.

All employers in the country would be required to participate in a verification system under which the government would confirm that a worker or a job applicant has legal status.

The bill, said its sponsor, committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), "will help restore the integrity of our nation's borders and reestablish respect for our laws by holding violators accountable."

President Bush has demanded that Congress address the illegal immigrant issue. He has also proposed a guest-worker program that could allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country temporarily to fill jobs unwanted by Americans.

Congress Near Deal on Treatment of Detainees

Congressional negotiators were near a deal yesterday on a defense bill that would put into law a ban on torture and other inhumane treatment of detainees, a step the White House has opposed.

A congressional aide said House Republicans had accepted the amendment pushed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which swept through the Senate 90 to 9 despite fierce White House opposition.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) would not say whether the McCain amendment would be in the defense authorization bill. Bush, Democrats Clash On Energy Assistance

The Bush administration said yesterday that it supports a House plan for an extra $1 billion to help poor families pay heating bills this winter, an amount that Democrats say is not enough, with fuel prices at record highs.

"We're facing real challenges this winter, and we are focusing on that," Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman told reporters on a cold day outside the White House after meeting with President Bush.

Bush supports $2.2 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Last winter, LIHEAP spent the same amount to help poor and elderly Americans pay their heating bills.

-- From News Services