The U.S. Senate Tuesday unanimously approved an $82 billion spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sent the measure to President Bush for his signature. The legislation was passed despite some lawmakers' opposition to a provision on immigration reform.
The supplemental spending bill is a compromise between House and Senate-passed versions of the legislation.
Most of the funding is to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This conference agreement embodies a genuine compromise between the two bodies on legislation that is of utmost importance to our troops who are deployed in the war on terror and for our allies around the world," said Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee:
But the measure also includes immigration provisions that were originally passed by the House, but never considered by the Senate. Under congressional rules, compromise legislation cannot be ammended and so lawmakers are forced to either vote for or against the entire bill.
One of the immigration provisions would make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.
Under the provision, states would have to require proof of citizenship or legal residency in order for that state driver's licenses to be used for federal purposes, such as entering a federal building or boarding an airplane. States would have three years to comply.
Republicans and Democrats alike criticized the provision, saying it poses an undue burden on the states. "We have just assumed that every single state will want to ante-up (pay up), turn its driver's license examiners into CIA agents, and pay hundreds of millions of dollars to do an almost impossible task over the next three years," said Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee.
Another provision would give immigration judges more power in deciding whether an alien's claim of asylum is credible. That troubles Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, who believes the measure does not offer enough protections for asylum-seekers. "This bill will have real effects on real people, people who will be sent back to countries where they or their families may be harmed or even killed because of their political or religious beliefs," he said.
The overall bill also includes money for anti-terrorism efforts and for construction of a U.S. embassy in Baghdad. In addition, it includes aid to Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority, as well as assistance for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and for efforts to end genocide in Darfur, Sudan.