The U.S. Senate has rejected a proposal to secure the nation's borders before tackling other immigration issues, such as ensuring a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
The U.S. Senate Tuesday cast preliminary votes on immigration legislation in what is likely to be a prolonged debate over how to treat millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Lawmakers defeated a proposal by Republican Party Senator Johnny Isakson requiring that border security be put in place before starting any program to help undocumented workers change their status.
The Senate also endorsed a proposal saying that changes in immigration policy can proceed if the president declares that they are in the interests of U.S. national security. The votes dealt President Bush an initial victory one day after he addressed the nation to urge a comprehensive approach to immigration.
At a news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Mr. Bush renewed his call for the U.S. Congress to increase border security, while introducing a guest-worker program to appeal to immigrants.
"The objective is, on the one hand, protect our borders, and on the other hand, never lose sight of the thing that makes America unique, which is, we're a land of immigrants and that we're not going to discriminate against people," said the president.
Mr. Bush said that his plan to send 6,000 National Guard troops to U.S. states along the Mexican border should not be seen as an effort to "militarize" the border. But reactions to Mr. Bush's proposal have been mixed and often emotional.
Democratic Party Senator Edward Kennedy (of the northern state of Massachusetts) decried the amount of money spent on increasing border patrols over the past two decades, only to result in an increase of illegal immigrants.
"Twenty years ago we had 40,000 people coming in here illegally. Ten years ago it was 400,000. And you know what we did? We spent $20 billion dollars between, the last 10 years. We increased border guards by 300 percent. And guess what? We have doubled the numbers, to 800,000 today."
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed an immigration bill that would make it a crime to be in the United States illegally. The Senate's legislation is expected be more accommodating to immigrants, and the two houses will have to reconcile their positions on that issue, among others.