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House passes $600 million border security bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to send more federal agents to the border with Mexico to strengthen security, approving a measure the Senate adopted last week.
The Obama administration has urged passage of the $600 million program as the flow of illegal immigrants has become an explosive political issue that could play a role in November 2 congressional elections.
The bill passed the House on a voice vote. But because of a legal technicality, President Barack Obama will probably have to wait until at least September to sign the bill into law.
The money will fund 1,000 new border patrol agents and 250 new customs and border protection officers at points of entry along the southwest border, Representative David Price, a Democrat, said on the House floor. It will also would pay to keep another 270 customs agents, he said.
Besides adding agents to the southern border, the money would expand the use of unmanned drones to monitor activities by air. It would also be used to improve communications among federal agencies and help fund investigations of illegal drug activity at the border.
"This funding is urgently needed to counter the pressures our law enforcement agencies and our border communities currently face," Price said.
But Republicans accused Democrats of bringing up the bill for political gain before the November elections.
Representative Jerry Lewis, a Republican, also said it would be paid for by "questionable" taxes on specific companies.
The bill funds the new border measures by raising visa application fees on a group of companies that operate in the United States and take advantage of U.S. law to import workers from abroad, Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said last week.
Senate aides said this would affect four companies from India that operate in the United States: Tata, Infosys, Wipro and Mahindra Satyam.
Schumer also said he hoped the measure could be a first step toward immigration reform. Obama and many of his fellow Democrats back a comprehensive reform of immigration policy to tighten border security but also allow the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants working in the United States to get on a path to citizenship.
Because of a constitutional requirement that revenue-raising bills originate in the House, the House-passed version of the legislation will have to go to the Senate for affirmation, and the Senate has recessed until mid-September, delaying the bill's signing.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, editing by Vicki Allen)
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