Congress Eyes Bills to Speed Citizenship for Aliens in Military

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Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A House panel today will begin considering bills to speed up citizenship for the 37,000 legal immigrants now on active duty in the military, and advocates for broader immigration say the bill could be a chance to push their agenda.

Similar military bills are pending in the Senate, and those on both sides of the immigration debate say the legislation has strong support and is expected to pass sometime soon.

"That's going to happen in any event, and they're going to start bringing their families," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee. "Their families have been separated, and they're going to start bringing their families. I think this is going to be an opportunity to come back to this issue."

In the months after the September 11 attacks, efforts to ease immigration laws were blocked in both chambers, including a major initiative to allow illegal immigrants living in the U.S. to apply for legal status here, rather than return home and go through the normal process. Proponents, including the Bush administration, say the provision referred to as 245(i) the section of immigration code it falls under is a family-reunification policy, but opponents called it a "mini-amnesty."

Several versions of that bill have been reintroduced in this congressional session, and last week House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio told reporters from Hispanic news outlets the Senate was responsible for holding up last year's bill. She said House Republicans may try to pass an extension of 245(i) again.

"We are poised to move in that direction, to address this issue," she said, though she didn't say when such a bill might see action.

Republican aides said there are no plans to move a bill anytime soon, and the prospect got a cool reception from Rep. …