WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed Sen. Lindsey Graham's legislation providing $3 billion in emergency funds to crack down on illegal immigration.
The Senate voted 95-1 for Graham's amendment to a defense appropriations bill giving the Pentagon $459 billion for fiscal 2008. It started Monday, but Congress last week agreed to fund the federal government at 2007 levels while lawmakers resolve disputes over the annual spending bills.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Graham said it is appropriate to place the border-security money in a Pentagon appropriations bill and to designate the funding as emergency spending in order to expedite the initiatives aimed at curbing illegal immigration.
"Securing our border is a national emergency because it's a national security problem not to be able to control who comes into your country," Graham said.
The Graham amendment would pay to build most of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, hire 3,000 more border agents, and install motion sensors and 105 ground-based cameras.
The money also would buttress efforts to compel employers to verify that their workers are in the country legally. And it would fund construction of detention centers for legal immigrants who overstay their visas and for repeat offenders who enter the country multiple times without proper documents.
The Senate passed similar Graham legislation in June during the divisive debate on immigration reform, but the broader immigration bill died in the Senate, so the $3 billion was stalled.
Graham's amendment providing more border-security money is also part of a homeland security spending bill the Senate passed in July. President Bush, however, has vowed to veto that appropriations measure because it exceeds his budget request by more than $2 billion.
Bush, by contrast, is expected to sign the defense spending bill.
Graham, a first-term Seneca Republican, acknowledged that his promotion of border-security money was partly in response to his failed efforts in May and June to pass the comprehensive immigration bill.
"People who want border security first -- this is a recognition that we've listened to you, we understand what you're saying, and we're putting money aside to make sure we secure our border," Graham said.
Sen. Jim DeMint, a fellow Republican South Carolinian who helped defeat the earlier immigration bill, praised Graham's bid to secure money for to fortify the border.
"This vital funding to secure our borders will begin to help solve our immigration crisis and keep our nation safe," DeMint said.