The Senate yesterday approved immediately spending nearly $2 billion to stop illegal immigration, the largest such infusion of emergency cash for the effort in recent years.
Nearly every member of the Senate voted in favor of the new spending, but Democrats and Republicans split over whether to find cuts elsewhere in the massive spending bill to offset the border security expenditures. Republicans ultimately prevailed and roughly 3 percent will be cut from defense spending contained in the same bill.
“Porous borders are a threat to our national security, and the Senate has acted today to provide vital funding that will increase our border defenses,” Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said after the vote.
Yesterday’s action—if approved by the House—would make a comprehensive immigration bill like President Bush wants more difficult to pass through Congress. Border security unites virtually all lawmakers, while the guest-worker program is disliked by liberals who say it creates unfair competition for American workers, and a path to citizenship is disliked by conservatives who view it as amnesty.
The 59-39 vote came one day after Mr. Bush appeared to endorse a Senate proposal that would give many illegal aliens already in the country a path to citizenship.
After meeting at the White House with more than a dozen senators Tuesday, Mr. Bush told reporters that there was a broad and bipartisan consensus for immigration reform legislation that “recognizes we must have a temporary worker program, a bill that does not grant automatic amnesty to people, but a bill that says somebody who is working here on a legal basis has the right to get in line to become a citizen.”
In any case, Mr. Bush was cautious.
Mr. Graham said he asked Mr. Bush if he defined “amnesty” as any program that doesn’t force illegals to leave the country altogether before applying for citizenship—a question that gets to the very heart of the debate.
“You don’t want me to answer that question,” Mr. Bush replied, according to Mr. Graham.
Other Republicans on Capitol Hill said Mr. Bush is either misinformed or just flat wrong if he supports Hagel-Martinez.
“I know he wants to move something forward,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said. “I think they need to study the language carefully because I do not believe that language in the bill comes close to meeting his standards that he’s set forth.”
Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, denounced the proposal.
“I feel very strongly that we should not reward illegal behavior with amnesty,” he said. “I think this convoluted three-tiered approach rewards illegal behavior and I don’t think that’s the right policy for this country, notwithstanding what the president had to say.”