House OKs Immigration Changes

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CBS/AP
Hoping to keep drivers licenses out of the hands of terrorists, the House voted Thursday to make states verify that applicants are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.

Governors are very unhappy about this, calling it a huge unfunded mandate. It's not at all clear if this will pass the Senate, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss.

The bill, pushed through by Republicans on a 261-161 vote, also would make it easier for judges to deport immigrants seeking political asylum if they think they might be terrorists.

"Common sense says we should not allow suspected terrorists to be able to stay inside our borders if they could harm us," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The measure was rejected by Congress and the White House in December as part of a bill reorganizing intelligence agencies in response to flaws found after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism attacks. It was revived with newly won support from the Bush administration, although it omitted one of President Bush's top immigration priorities – a proposal for a guest worker program.

"Today there are over 350 valid drivers license designs issued by the 50 states. We all know it's very difficult for security officials at airports to tell the real ID cards from the counterfeit ones," said the bill's sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner.

Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the new features that states would have to include on drivers licenses would prevent terrorists from using them as IDs to board planes like the Sept. 11 hijackers did.

Governors, state legislators and motor vehicle departments have all argued that requiring verification of background information such as Social Security numbers and whether a person is in the United States legally would be burdensome.

The National Governors Association and a group representing motor vehicle department administrators said in a letter to House leaders that the measure is a "massive unfunded mandate."

The bill is expected to have more difficulty in the Senate, where several Republican lawmakers have said they want it considered as part of a broader immigration package.