WASHINGTON -- The majority leader, Bill Frist, plans to seek Senate passage of immigration legislation by Memorial Day, hoping to revive a bill that tightens border security and that gives millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship, Republican leadership aides said yesterday.
In a gesture to conservative critics, Frist and other Republicans also intend to seek roughly $2 billion in additional spending for border protection.
The aides said that the money would allow for training of Border Patrol agents, construction of detention facilities for immigrants caught entering the country illegally, the purchase of helicopters and surveillance aircraft, and the construction of a fence in high-traffic areas.
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity. They said they did not want to preempt a formal announcement.
Frist's decision signaled a determination by Republicans to press ahead toward passage of election-year legislation. The issue has triggered large, peaceful street protests by immigrants' rights supporters, as well as internal disputes in both political parties, as well as partisan bickering.
A sweeping immigration bill was stalled as legislators left town two weeks ago for an Easter recess, after Frist, Republican of Tennessee, and the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, could not agree on a procedure for voting on amendments that had been sought by Republicans.
Supporters of the measure had said at the time that they had as many as 70 votes for the bill.
President Bush has repeatedly urged Congress to approve a bill that tightens border security as it addresses the problem of the estimated 11 million men, women, and children who are in the country illegally.
House Republicans have passed a bill that is limited to border security, but leaders have signaled that they would be receptive to broader legislation.
The measure at the center of the Senate stalemate would provide for stronger border security, regulate the future entry of foreign workers, and create a complex set of new regulations for illegal immigrants.
Officials said that about 9 million of them, those who could show that they had been in the United States for more than two years, would eventually become eligible for citizenship under the proposal.
Critics of the measure have argued that it amounts to amnesty, and they have worked over the past two weeks to undermine its support.
But Bush has made it clear that he wants legislation, and some Republicans have voiced hope that they can send him a bill and gain credit with voters who are increasingly dissatisfied with Congress.
The attempt to add $2 billion to border security spending is expected next week. Some critics of the bill have argued that it makes little sense to pass legislation affecting the current population of illegal immigrants, as long as the borders remain porous to potential future immigrants.
Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters this week that he intends to increase enforcement efforts at places of employment.
In a separate development, the Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a suit over immigrant workers hired by
One current and three former employees of the carpet manufacturer have filed a class-action lawsuit against the firm, alleging that it had knowingly hired hundreds of illegal immigrants to suppress legal workers' wages.
The company has denied knowledge of any illegal workers on its payroll, and has said it provides all employees with competitive wages and health benefits.