Washington The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed three immigration enforcement-related measures Republican leaders hope to add to a must-pass homeland security spending bill next week.
The Senate, meanwhile, continued debating a bill to build 700 miles of fencing along the southern border.
GOP leaders want to get these measures to President Bush's desk before they recess for the November elections at the end of next week. Bush has advocated a broader approach to immigration policy, one that includes a new guest worker program and a plan to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants. But he said this week he would sign a border security measure.
One bill that passed 422-0 would make the construction or financing of an unauthorized tunnel under a U.S. border a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
A bill that would make it easier to deport criminal illegal immigrants and those found to be members of street gangs passed 328-95. It also allows the Department of Homeland Security to keep in custody for longer than six months immigrants they want to deport but whose home countries won't accept them. The current limit is six months.
Another bill, passed 277-140, would give state and local police the authority to arrest, detain and transfer illegal immigrants to federal custody. It also calls for more federal prosecutors to handle immigrant smuggling cases. And it would require the Department of Homeland Security to end the past practice of releasing non-Mexican immigrants while they await deportation proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security already has stopped this so-called "catch and release" program.