President Bush - in an effort to revive an immigration reform bill that has stalled in the Senate - has expressed support for a Republican plan that would use fines and fees collected from illegal immigrants in the United States to pay for border security. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The plan, drafted by Republican Senators John Kyl and Lindsey Graham, would provide $4 billion toward border security and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The funds would come from fees and fines paid by undocumented workers who are seeking legal status in the United States.
In a speech in Washington, President Bush expressed support for the plan, and renewed his appeal to lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill and send it to him for his signature.
"We have a historic window of opportunity to act now," said President Bush. "Now is the time to get it done. We've got to summon the political courage to move forward on comprehensive reform. Doing nothing is not a solution."
Supporters hope the mandatory border funding plan will help attract more Republican support for the overall immigration bill, which was blocked last week by Republican opponents.
But some critics immediately rejected the plan. Congressman Duncan Hunter is a California Republican who is seeking his party's nomination for president next year.
"The whole idea of extracting money from illegal aliens to have border security, the implication of which is that we are not going to have border security unless illegal aliens pay for it, is totally unacceptable for the American people," said Congressman Hunter.
Hunter and other critics argue the Senate bill does not go far enough in securing U.S. borders, and grants amnesty to those who entered the country illegally because it offers them a possible path to U.S. citizenship.
Supporters note that border security measures must be in place before the other provision of the bill - a temporary guest worker program - can begin.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, says he will send the legislation back to the Senate floor only if more Republican senators commit to moving ahead with the bill.
In the meantime, supporters and opponents of the legislation are stepping up their campaigns.
Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and cosponsor the Senate bill, led a rally at the Capitol.
"We have in this legislation an opportunity to enhance hope, progress and opportunity for millions of people who are living in fear, millions of people who want to be part of the American dream, millions of people who want to contribute to the United States of America," said Ted Kennedy.
At Kennedy's side were a number of boxes which he said contained one million petitions signed by Americans who support the immigration bill.
On the other side of the issue is Congressman Elton Gallegly, a California Republican. Gallegly opposes the Senate bill because, among other reasons, it would grant immediate legal status to undocumented workers, even - he argues - if they have not yet passed all appropriate background checks.
"Rather than provide for the safety of Americans, this bill will create safe havens for criminals and terrorists who prey on Americans," said Elton Gallegly.
Opponents of the bill are gathering in Washington to memorialize people who have died as a result of actions by people who are in the United States illegally - primarily victims of murder or drunken driving.
Joan Molinaro, whose son died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center September 11, 2001, believes passage of the immigration bill will only spur more illegal immigration and do little to secure U.S. borders.
She offered harsh words to President Bush.
"You are sending our young men and women to die in Iraq to protect [its] borders," said Joan Molinaro. "You are asking them to die, to leave their families and protect a foreign border, and you are unwilling to protect the border and the families that they are leaving behind."
Opponents of the immigration bill are planning rallies in Washington Friday and Saturday.