House panel bar benefits for Gitmo detainees

WASHINGTON The 34-24 vote was the latest step in which lawmakers have gone on record against allowing detainees at the detention center in Cuba into the United States other than for the purpose of going on trial. Republicans said the provision is aimed at making sure detainees who are released before their trials or are found innocent can't stay in the United States.

Democrats said the language approved Friday is similar to a provision in the pending war funding bill facing floor votes next week that would take effect as soon as Obama signs the measure. But the war funding measure's restrictions would be in force only through Sept. 30. The measure approved Friday would extend it far beyond that date.

The House panel's plan, by Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., would block the government from providing "any immigration benefit" to Guantanamo detainees. It was amended to clarify that bringing detainees in for their trials is permitted.

The move came as a key House panel approved a $42.6 billion homeland security spending bill.

The bill also would extend for two years the E-Verify program, which uses the Social Security Administration database to root out people working in the U.S. illegally.

But citing opposition from Hispanic lawmakers, top members on the House Appropriations Committee declined a request by President Barack Obama to extend the program for three years. The panel also rejected a GOP effort to extend the program permanently.

E-Verify is an important element of any comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Lawmakers who favor liberal reform generally are reluctant about long-term extensions of the program for fear of giving away leverage. The voluntary program, however, is a favorite of lawmakers who prefer an enforcement-first approach to immigration policy. They want to make it mandatory for employers nationwide. That makes their more liberal colleagues queasy unless it was accompanied with elements of immigration reform they support, such as creating a so-called pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in this country.

Business and immigrant groups also complain that E-verify is not 100 percent accurate and could lead employers to fire people who are in the country legally.

The underlying funding bill approved by the House panel provided a nearly 7 percent budget increase for the Department of Homeland Security. It had sweeping support from lawmakers in both parties, which approved it by voice vote.

The bill continues a significant ramp-up in funding for the sprawling Cabinet agency, including big increases for explosives detection machines at U.S. airports and a continued focus on policing the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, about 17,000 Border Patrol agents will police that border.

It also contains more than 150 so-called earmarks sought by lawmakers for local emergency operations centers and disaster mitigation programs. For years, lawmakers kept the measure mostly free of earmarks.

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