Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said yesterday that the Senate will tackle border security and interior immigration enforcement before turning to the broader question of immigration reforms and a guest-worker program.
“It is a separate issue, but it’s one that people understand,” the Tennessee Republican said of border security. “It’s an immediate issue, it needs to be addressed more aggressively, we need to do that.”
Speaking with The Washington Times by telephone after a helicopter tour yesterday of 300 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, Mr. Frist said he does not know whether an immigration bill can pass this year because of a heavy workload, but the Senate will pass a bill before adjourning next year.
He said the next immigration bill should address border security and could cover interior enforcement as well.
As majority leader, he controls the floor schedule of the Senate, and his decision will please many conservatives, who are calling for enforcement first. But it puts him at odds with President Bush and immigration rights advocates, who have said they want action on a broader guest-worker program this year.
His position on tackling enforcement first is similar to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who says the government must prove to voters that it can enforce immigration laws before Congress turns to a guest-worker plan.
The majority leader did not meet with members of the Minuteman Project, who are doing voluntary patrols to try to block aliens from illegally crossing the border. But he seemed to side more with their backers than their opponents—including Mr. Bush, who has called them vigilantes.
“I did ask people over the course of today what their impressions were, and I left with a very positive attitude towards them, at least among the people I talked with—that they were filling a gap that needs to be filled, and that most people feel the government has a responsibility to fill and has not done,” he said.