The House sent to President Bush late Saturday a hallmark revision of immigration law, keeping family reunification as its cornerstone but opening America's door to individuals of wealth, special skills and even those long shunned for political or medical reasons. The vote was 264-118.
The measure, approved by the Senate 89-8 a day earlier, would boost the current immigration limit of 490,000 to 645,000 in each fiscal year through 1994, and to 675,000 annually thereafter.Bush has indicated he will sign the bill, the culmination of a three-year congressional effort.
Congress approved legislation in 1986 to tighten up against illegal immigration, but the bill sent to Bush on Saturday represents the first major reworking of the legal immigration system since 1965.
The measure assigns the first 465,000 visas each year to the "family preference" category, with an estimated 220,000 of those going to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Rep. John Bryant, D-Texas, assailed the bill as one which "begins to launch us into a new era in which we will see dramatic increases of numbers of persons who can enter this country who in the past have not met with public approval."
Bryant referred specifically to a provision allowing an additional 140,000 permanent workers to enter the country annually, including 10,000 who could qualify for special "investor" visas. "We do not have a labor shortage in America today, we have a job shortage," he said.
Among other changes, the bill would:
-Relax political restrictions dating to the 1950s, when Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis., fought to ban many categories of immigrants as part of his crusade against communism.
-Give Health Secretary Louis Sullivan the authority to remove AIDS and other diseases from the medical list for which a person may be denied entry.
-Immediately boost immigration from Hong Kong to 10,000 a year, and to 27,000 a year after 1994. Control of Hong Kong will pass from Great Britain to China in 1997.
-Grant effective amnesty to an estimated 30,000 Irish living illegally in the United States.