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Political Notebook

House passes narrow immigration bill

Judge John Sirica appears in new Watergate files.

ASSOCIATED press

Judge John Sirica appears in new Watergate files.

WASHINGTON — Testing the waters of what is expected to be a turbulent battle about immigration policy next year, the House voted Friday to make green cards accessible to foreign students graduating with advanced science and math degrees from US universities.

But even this limited step, strongly backed by the high-tech industry and enjoying bipartisan support, is unlikely to go anywhere this session of Congress, dramatizing how tough it will be to find lasting solutions to the nation’s immigration system.

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A more sweeping bill presumably would deal not only with legal residents but also the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally.

Republicans, who were largely shunned by Hispanic voters and other minorities in November elections, used the 245-139 vote Friday for the STEM Jobs Act to show they have softened their immigration policies and are set for a more comprehensive bil .

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

GOP leaders also added a provision making it easier for immigrants working in the US legally to bring their spouses and kids to the United States while they wait for their visa applications to be approved. Typically, family members now wait more than two years to be reunited. About 80,000 such family-based visas are currently issued every year.

But for many Democrats and the Obama White House, this first step was more of a misstep. Democrats, including Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, assailed the bill for offsetting the 55,000 new permanent residency visas by eliminating a program that gave green cards to those with traditionally lower rates of immigration, particularly people from Africa.

The White House, in a statement opposing the GOP-crafted bill, said it was encouraged that Congress ‘‘appears to be ready to begin serious debate on the need to fix our broken immigration system.’’ But it said the administration does not support ‘‘narrowly tailored proposals’’ that do not meet long-term objectives to reach comprehensive reform.

That comprehensive approach includes dealing with the young people brought into the country illegally, establishing a solution for agriculture workers, creating an effective border enforcement system and worker verification program, and deciding by what means those living in the country illegally can attain legal status.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is seen as likely to ignore the House STEM bill in thecurrent session.

US releases documents
on Watergate scandal

WASHINGTON — The government Friday released more than 850 pages of once-secret documents from the Watergate political scandal, providing insights on privileged legal conversations and prison evaluations of some burglars in the case. A federal judge had decided earlier this month to unseal some material, but other records remain off limits.

The files do not appear to provide any significant revelations in the 40-year-old case that led to the resignation of President Nixon and criminal prosecutions of many of his top White House and political aides. But the files provide useful context for historians, revealing behind-the-scenes deliberations by the judge then in charge of the case, John J. Sirica, along with prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The files showed Sirica at times discussing the case with special prosecutors and justifying his attempts to learn facts in the case. The documents stem from the prosecution of five defendants arrested during the June 1972 Watergate break-in and two men, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who were charged as the burglary team’s supervisors. All seven were convicted.

One transcript of an in-chambers meeting between Sirica and special prosecutor Archibald Cox in July 1973 shows that the judge revealed secret probation reports indicating that Hunt had cited orders from ‘‘very high’’ Nixon administration officials. Several of Hunt’s co-defendants had denied any White House involvement in court testimony, and Sirica told Cox that he felt the new information ‘‘seemed to me significant.’’

Cox agreed with Sirica’s fears that the probation report should be sealed and thanked him for the information.

Former Nixon White House lawyer John Dean, who testified against Nixon during an explosive congressional hearing in June 1973, said Friday after reviewing some newly released files that while Sirica’s investigative zeal was well-known, his dealings with Cox and other prosecutors were ‘‘eye-opening.”

Senate prohibits some indefinite detention in US

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted late Thursday to ban the government from imprisoning US citizens and green-card holders apprehended in the United States in indefinite detention without trial.

While the move appeared to bolster protections for domestic civil liberties, it was opposed by an array of rights groups who contended it implied that other types of people inside the United States — including foreign students or tourists — could be placed in military detention, opening the door to using the military to perform police functions.

The measure was an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which is now pending on the Senate floor, and was sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Utah Republican.

The Senate backed adding it to the bill by a vote of 67-29. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry voted for the bill; his GOP counterpart, Scott Brown, voted against it.

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