WASHINGTON - Determined to show a commitment to stopping the flow of illegal immigrants, the Senate convened a special session yesterday and passed a $600-million bill to put more agents and equipment along the Mexican border.
The voice vote in the nearly empty Senate chamber sends the legislation to President Barack Obama, who planned to sign it into law today. Obama had urged Congress to channel more money toward border security amid complaints from states besieged by undocumented immigrants and illegal drug trafficking.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chief sponsor, said the measure would provide Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano "with the boots on the ground and the resources necessary to combat the crime and violence."
Obama said the bill would help protect communities along the Southwest border and across the country. "And this new law will also strengthen our partnership with Mexico in targeting the gangs and criminal organizations that operate on both sides of our shared border," he said in a statement.
House Democrats had also called a special session, summoning lawmakers back from their summer break yesterday to pass the border security bill and a $26-billion aid bill to keep teachers and other public workers from being laid off. Both issues - jobs and border security - are among those expected to be on voters' minds when they go to the polls in November.
Senate historian Donald Ritchie said it was only the second time since the August break became official policy in 1970 that the Senate had reconvened. The first time was after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The border security measure would fund 1,000 new Border Patrol agents, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers. It provides for new communications equipment and more use of unmanned surveillance drones.