U.S. Congress Passes $600 Million Border Security Legislation

U.S. Border Patrol Agents
U.S. Border Patrol agents stand guard between Arizona and Mexico boarders at the town of Nogales. Photographer: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Senate passed and sent to President Barack Obama a $600 million plan to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border, providing 1,500 new Border Patrol, Customs and other agents, communications equipment and unmanned aircraft.

With Congress on its August recess, the measure was passed without opposition today in a special session attended by two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer of New York and Ben Cardin of Maryland. The House passed the bill by voice vote two days ago.

The measure, which now goes to the White House for Obama’s signature, will increase border security spending by 10 percent in the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Obama has tried to boost funding as Republicans criticize him for not doing more to stem violence fueled by Mexican drug cartels from spilling over the border.

The bill will provide the “boots on the grounds and the resources needed to combat the crime and violence” on the border, Schumer said.

Reflecting concern about the federal budget deficit, the legislation will be financed by higher fees for skilled-worker visas for companies that have more than half of their employees on two types of foreign-worker visas. The fees target companies that are “essentially creating multinational temp agencies,” Schumer said.

The government of India called the legislation “highly discriminatory.” The fee increase could cost software-services companies based in India, such as Infosys Technologies Ltd., and Wipro Ltd., as much as $250 million a year, said Som Mittal, president of Nasscom, an Indian industry trade group, on Aug. 6.

Added Company Fees

The bill is likely to add $2,000 to fees for the companies, affecting applicants for H-1B visas, which are used for skilled workers, and L visas, which are used for transfers at multinational companies.

Obama in May announced plans to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and said he would seek $500 million more in funding for security measures as part of an effort to prod Congress to work on overhauling immigration laws. That debate is expected to slip into next year.

Last month, the administration won the first round in a court battle with Arizona when a federal judge blocked a state law aimed at thwarting illegal immigration. The U.S. Justice Department argues that the Arizona measure intrudes into the traditionally federal sphere of immigration policy.

The Senate also passed a resolution honoring Ted Stevens, the longtime Republican senator from Alaska who died in a plane crash this week.

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