WASHINGTON — Sweeping U.S. immigration legislation cruised toward passage in the Senate on Wednesday, but Republicans in the House of Representatives pursued a different approach that cracks down on millions living in the United States illegally rather than offering them a chance at citizenship.
The White House-backed Senate bill was on track for passage by Thursday or Friday. President Barack Obama would like to have an immigration bill passed by Congress so he can point to a major legislative success.
Immigration is one area in which both major political parties have managed to find common ground in a bitterly divisive Congress. Republicans turned to immigration reform after losing badly in last year’s presidential election as Obama benefited from a growing Hispanic vote.
The Senate legislation includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration, while offering a chance at citizenship for millions living in the country illegally.
It provides for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, requires the completion of 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico and requires an array of high-tech devices be deployed to secure that border.
Businesses would be required to check on the legal status of prospective employees.
The government would install a high-tech system to check on the comings and goings of foreigners at selected international airports in the United States.
Other provisions would expand the number of visas for highly skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. Separate programs would be established for lower-skilled and farm workers.
In the House, an attempt at a bipartisan deal faltered, and majority Republicans began moving ahead on legislation tailored to the wishes of conservatives and vehemently opposed by Obama’s Democrats.
One of the bills approved by the House Judiciary Committee makes it a new crime to remain in the country without legal status. It also allows state and local governments to enforce federal immigration laws, an attempt to apprehend more immigrants living in the United States illegally. It encourages those living in the United States unlawfully to depart voluntarily.