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Senate Passes Tighter Restrictions For Entry of Foreigners Into U.S.

By Jonathan Peterson
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- washington

The Senate overwhelmingly approved measures Thursday to enhance U.S. border security, including new rules for monitoring foreign students, more effective use of intelligence data and 2,000 extra immigration investigators and border inspectors.

The popular legislation, promoted as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, passed by a vote of 97-0.

The House, which has passed a similar bill, is expected to approve the Senate legislation this week and send it to the White House for President Bush’s signature.

Advocates said the legislation, projected to cost more than $3 billion over three years, would improve the nation’s security without compromising freedoms or endangering the economy.

Compared with last year’s USA PATRIOT Act, which gave the administration sweeping new powers to prosecute suspected terrorists, the Border Security Act is a narrower set of measures designed to strengthen America’s traditionally relaxed entry system.

For example, it would lift the 45-minute time limit for U.S. inspectors to process incoming flights, a requirement that had placed the convenience of air travelers ahead of methodical inspections at U.S. ports of entry.

Despite its broad support, the bill had bogged down in the Senate, where Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., complained that it was being pushed with inadequate scrutiny.

In addition, Byrd insisted on dropping a measure that would have temporarily allowed immigrants who have overstayed their visas to apply for U.S. residency while still inside this country, rather than returning home to submit such requests.

The provision, known as 245(i), is ardently supported by immigrant rights advocates and had been included in the House version of the border security bill.