Rise in border funds moves US immigration plan forward

US Border Patrol agents Colleen Agle and Richard Funke patrol the border between Arizona and Mexico at the town of Nogales 28 July 2010 The bill would double the number of border patrol agents to 40,000

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A bill to overhaul the US immigration system has passed a key hurdle after the Senate approved a $38bn (£24bn) increase in border security.

After Monday night's 67-27 vote the bill, the centrepiece of which is a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, is seen as likely to pass.

The tough border security measures and increased spending were needed to win Republican votes, analysts say.

The bill faces a tougher road in the more conservative House.

'Now is the time'

As the Senate voted on Monday, President Barack Obama urged Congress to act quickly on the legislation.

"Now is the time to do it," Mr Obama said at the White House before meeting business executives supporting immigration reform.

"I hope that we can get the strongest possible vote out of the Senate so that we can then move to the House and get this done before the summer break."

The heart of the bill is a 13-year-long path to legal status for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US.

The bill also creates or expands visa programmes for high-skilled and agricultural workers.

The border security amendment by Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee would double the number of border patrol agents to 40,000 and fund the construction of 700 miles of border fencing.

It also includes billions of dollars in funding for drone aircraft, an electronic employment verification system and long-range heat sensing cameras.

The bill would require border security measures to be in place before undocumented immigrants would be able to seek legal status.

Monday's vote prevented the bill's opponents from employing a procedural tactic known as a filibuster to block passage of the border security amendment and stall or kill the larger bill.

With 15 Republican senators voting affirmatively, the larger bill's passage seems increasingly likely. The final bill is expected to pass the Senate by the 4 July holiday.

'Fig leaf'

Meanwhile, the bill's opponents - all Republicans - said the border security measure had been pushed through too quickly.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz criticised lawmakers of both parties, who he said "very much want a fig leaf" on border security in order to justify their vote on immigration.

Mr Cruz is among a group of Republican senators who argue the bill's main provision encourages illegal immigration and rewards those who broke the law.

Similar sentiment in the more conservative House of Representatives leaves the legislation's final outcome unclear.

Forward movement on the bill comes shortly after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation would reduce the US budget deficit by $175bn over 10 years and boost economic growth.

And analysts say many Republicans acknowledge the need to overhaul the immigration system given that Hispanics - an increasingly key voter bloc and a significant percentage of US immigrants - overwhelmingly chose Mr Obama, a Democrat, in November's presidential election.

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