WASHINGTON – The issues of immigration and the War on Terror collided on the Senate floor Tuesday as GOP leaders tried to derail debate on whether to provide amnesty (search) for illegal-alien farm workers.
Some Republicans said they want to add the amnesty provision to an emergency spending (search) bill providing $81 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but others tried to smother the legislation.
"I am encouraging my colleagues to defer, to postpone discussions of immigration and to postpone that debate to a later debate," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search).
Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig (search) has been pushing a bill to grant temporary amnesty to 1.2 million illegal migrant farm workers as a path to full legal status. The White House opposes the bill because it deals only with migrant farm workers and not the larger illegal immigrant population.
Most Senate Republicans oppose granting amnesty as outlined in Craig's bill. They want to accelerate war funding and avoid a protracted, intra-party fight over immigration.
"This is complicated, it's big, it's got to be done, and it should not be attempted on a bill which we've to get passed quickly to ensure funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
The House war supplemental already includes White House-backed immigration proposals. One provision would overrule current environmental statutes and close a three-mile hole in the fence separating the United States and Mexico near San Diego. Another would create universal federal standards for state driver's licenses.
The Senate stripped these provisions from last year's intelligence reform (search) bill. They've been excluded from the current Senate bill. But the Democratic leader said he would not stop other proposals offered by his side of the aisle.
"I don't know how I can stop people from offering amendments on immigration," said Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The issue of illegal immigration has revealed rifts in the Republican Party. Many conservatives want tougher border controls and applauded the recent efforts by a group called the Minutemen (search) — citizen volunteers who monitored a 45-mile stretch of Arizona desert to alert Border Patrol agents of illegal crossings.
President Bush aggravated conservatives when he called the Minutemen "vigilantes" before they arrived at the border.
The president is also under fire for adding only 210 border patrol (search) agents in this year's budget. The intelligence reform bill that was signed into law in December sought 2,000 new border agents each year for the next 5 years.
"No discussion of comprehensive immigration reform is possible without a clear commitment to and a dramatic elevation in our efforts to enforce the law. That includes enforcement both at the border and within the interior," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
The war funding bill provides $276 million in funding for training new immigration and customs personnel and calls for the immediate lifting of a hiring freeze at the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search) bureau.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.