PHOENIX -- The Obama administration on Friday urged the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a border security package as soon as possible, potentially as early as next week when lawmakers convene for a special session.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said administration officials have reached out to the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge swift passage of the Senate bill, which seeks $600 million to boost security on the porous U.S. border with Mexico.
"The administration has been in touch with the speaker's office, and ... we would obviously support the House concurring in the Senate package and doing so as quickly as possible," Napolitano told reporters during a conference call.
The House has already passed its own version of legislation, but House Democratic leaders are now discussing the possibility of voting on the Senate version when lawmakers convene for a special session next week, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
House lawmakers are interrupting their summer break to return to Washington to consider a $26.1 billion bill to help states cope with historic budget shortfalls and prevent teacher layoffs.
However, a decision may not be made until Monday, according to the Democratic aide. If the House passes the Senate version, it would then be ready for President Barack Obama's signature.
The Senate measure was unanimously approved on Thursday in a night session aimed at wrapping up its work before the start of a five-week summer recess.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, a sponsor of the bill, said it would pay for the hiring of 1,500 new federal agents to patrol the Mexico border, where the flow of illegal immigrants has become an explosive political issue and could play a role in the outcome of the November 2 congressional elections.
Democrats hold majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives but public opinion polls show Republicans gaining ground with an agenda that includes calls for cracking down on illegal immigration.
Besides adding agents to the southern border, the money would augment the use of unmanned drones to monitor activities by air. It also would improve communications among federal agencies and help fund investigations of illegal drug activity at the border, Schumer said.
Schumer said the measure would not add to the federal deficit, but be paid for by raising fees on a handful of foreign companies he said "exploit" a U.S. visa program to import workers from abroad.
Schumer said the funds would be raised from boosting fraud prevention fees on H-1B and L visas to $2,000 from the current $320. Schumer said the increase would apply only to firms that have "more than 50 employees and more than 50 percent of ... employees on H-1B or L visa status."
"This really is only a handful of foreign companies that are really taking advantage of H-1B, this is not Microsoft and Intel," he told the conference call.
H-1B visas are for skilled workers such as computer technicians, and L visas for intracompany transferees.
Earlier this year, Arizona's legislature passed a law to try to drive nearly half a million illegal immigrants out of Arizona and stem the flow of human and drug smugglers over the border from Mexico.
A federal judge has since blocked the law's most controversial provisions, handing a victory to the Obama administration, which argued the measure was unconstitutional.
Obama and his fellow Democrats back a comprehensive reform of immigration policy to tighten border security but also allow the 11 million illegal immigrants working in the United States to get onto a path to citizenship.
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