WASHINGTON – In a rare moment of bipartisanship Tuesday, the House approved $600 million to pay for more unmanned surveillance drones and about 1,500 more agents along the troubled Mexican border.
Getting tougher on border security is one of the few issues that both parties agree on in this highly charged election season. But lawmakers remain deeply divided over a more comprehensive approach to the illegal immigration problem, and it's unclear if Congress will go beyond border-tightening efforts.
The House passed the bill by voice vote after brief debate and the Senate passed an identical bill last week. But senators must act again, for technical reasons, before sending the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said leaders hope they can give the bill final passage by the end of the week, even though the full Senate is not in session.
The bill would offset its costs by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs to bring skilled workers to the United States. These include the popular H-1B visa program. India says higher fees would discriminate against its companies and workers.
The bill includes $176 million for 1,000 new border patrol agents to form a strike force to be deployed at critical areas, $89 million for another 500 customs and immigration personnel, and $32 million to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
It also provides $196 million for the Justice Department to bolster its forces of U.S. marshals, and FBI, DEA and ATF agents along the border.
Congress and the White House felt a greater urgency to act on border security after Arizona passed a law directing its law enforcement officers to be more aggressive in seeking out illegal immigrants. A federal judge struck down the law's main provisions, but many voters throughout the country favor crackdowns on illegal immigration.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., asked the Senate to move quickly. She said it's time for the federal government "to stop letting us down and start getting the job done" on tighter border security.