WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate agreed to give the Department of Homeland Security $390 million to hire hundreds more Border Patrol and immigration officers when it approved an $81 billion spending bill for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The money, contained in an amendment sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., would pay for 650 Border Patrol agents, 250 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigators, and 168 immigration enforcement agents and detention officers.
Of the money, $10 million is designated for buying additional unmanned drones for surveillance on the southern border and $66 million for 2,000 detention beds. Byrd's amendment was approved Thursday, 65-34. Both Texas senators voted for it.
"Right now we have a finger-in-the dike approach to protecting our borders," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who co-sponsored the amendment.
The U.S. military operations bill was approved by the Senate Thursday, 99-0.
Differences between House and Senate versions of the legislation will be resolved in a conference committee before a final bill heads to President Bush.
An intelligence reorganization bill signed by Bush in December called for 2,000 new Border Patrol agents, 800 new immigration agents and 2,000 additional detention beds over the next five years, but provided no money for them.
"We ask how and why illegal aliens continue to pour into our country, and the answer lies in every Border Patrol increase we do not fund, every agent we do not hire, and every illegal alien we release due to lack of detention space," Byrd said on the Senate floor this week.
The House version of the spending bill also contains provisions that effectively deny drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, toughen asylum laws and provide sweeping powers to the Homeland Security secretary to bypass laws to build border barriers.