Washington — Republicans will go into the Nov. 7 elections with a message that they've made great strides fighting illegal immigration, including authorizing a fence along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border and making a $1.2 billion down payment on it.
Among its final tasks before leaving to campaign, the Senate on Friday night passed and sent to President Bush a bill authorizing 700 new miles of fencing on the southern border. No one knows how much it will cost, but a separate bill also on the way to the White House makes a $1.2 billion down payment on it. A 14-mile segment of fence under construction in San Diego is costing $126.5 million.
The House passed the fence bill two weeks ago. The Senate vote on it Friday night was 80-19.
In addition to money for starting work on the fence, a homeland security bill passed Friday by the House and later by the Senate includes $380 million to hire 1,500 more Border Patrol agents and money to build detention facilities to hold 6,700 more illegal immigrants until they can be deported.
"We have made giant steps in terms of our ability to control illegal immigration," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The fence bill became House Republicans' immigration focus in September after they abandoned President Bush's call to bring millions of illegal immigrants into the American mainstream.