The Senate took a short break from recess for a special session Thursday to pass a $600 million border security package. Members also adopted a resolution honoring the late former Sen. Ted Stevens, who was killed in a plane crash this week.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, will deploy 1,500 enforcement personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border and fund increased intelligence and unmanned surveillance vehicles, or drones, along the border. The measure will give $196 million to the Department of Justice to pay for U.S. attorneys, legal expenses, and a federal prison system for illegal immigrant felons, among other security measures. The bill will be paid for by increasing fees on temporary skilled worker visas for companies who have a majority of their employees in the states on these visas. [See who is giving money to Schumer's reelection campaign.]
"This bill is an answer to the problem in Arizona," said McCaskill at a press conference last week after she and Schumer introduced the measure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that while passing the measure is a success, there is still more work to be done. "Increased enforcement along our borders is only one part of a sound, comprehensive solution to fix our broken immigration system," Reid said in a statement following the bill's final passage.
The bill now heads to the White House for President Obama's signature.
This is the second time this week that Congress has interrupted recess to vote on this legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called members of her chamber back to Washington on Tuesday to approve the measure and to pass a $26 billion state aid bill. However, only two senators, Schumer and Democrat Ben Cardin, returned to the Senate floor Thursday because the bill only required a unanimous consent, where by members do not have to be physically present.
The border security bill was welcomed with bipartisan support, as immigration reform is likely to be a hot topic of debate on the campaign trail where many members of Congress will be spending their recess. After it was first approved by the Senate last week, McCaskill said, "What a relief that the Senate is still capable of passing measures that are really needed without playing political games." The Senate returned to recess immediately after the vote and will reconvene in September.