A $600-million bill to beef up border security should have been on its way to President Obama for signature after the House approved it Tuesday, but instead it has been derailed by a procedural glitch that requires a do-over by the Senate — which has adjourned until September.
The technical misstep embarrassed congressional leaders and put the brakes on quick approval of funding for Obama's plan to deploy another 1,500 Border Patrol and other law enforcement personnel along the border with Mexico.
Democrats had sought quick action on the measure, in part to show voters that the federal government could be responsive to border problems following Arizona's tough new immigration law.
Unanimous approval by the House on Tuesday seemed to be the last step for the bill — until it was discovered that the Senate, which approved the measure last week, had unwittingly violated a constitutional requirement that all spending bills originate in the House.
Senate leaders said they would try to re-approve the bill this week using a special procedure — the same one they used to pass the bill just days ago — that does not require senators to be present for a voice vote. It is uncertain if they have the support to accomplish that.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had pressed Congress for swift approval of the measure, which would deploy an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border, hire 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers and add 250 Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to target drug smuggling.
The package would also add two unmanned surveillance planes and boost the Justice Department's resources for investigating and prosecuting organized drug gangs.
Costs would be offset by substantially raising the visa fees for companies that hire foreign workers, from $320 to as much as $2,750 each. The fees would be imposed on firms that hire 50 or more foreign workers or have 50% of their staff on foreign visas.
Immigration advocacy groups have denounced the measure as an election-year stunt that would do little to resolve the complex problems of illegal immigration and drugs.
Congress is stalemated over a comprehensive immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in this country illegally.
"Politicians will go home and brag to their constituents about how tough they are, without solving a thing," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, an immigration advocacy group.