WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate passed a $600 million border security bill Thursday, sending it to President Obama’s desk for signature.
The bill passed by unanimous consent with only two senators present: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Ben Cardin, D-Md. The Senate adjourned for August recess last Friday and held a special session Thursday to resolve a procedural hiccup with the bill.
The House passed the bill when it returned from its August recess on Tuesday.
The bill appropriates $500 million to hire 1,500 new border patrol agents, provide unmanned aerial drones, which feed data on illegal border crossings to field agents, and buy new communications equipment to streamline contact between federal agents and state and local officials along the border.
The measure is intended to beef up resources to break up gun, drug and human smuggling and trafficking rings and well as combat money launderers and other organized criminals.
The bill would “finally provide President Obama and Secretary Napolitano with the ‘boots on the ground’ and the resources necessary to combat crime and violence that currently exists on our southern border,” Schumer said.
It also establishes bases along the southwest U.S. border to enable border officials to more easily detain people who are apprehended along the border.
In addition, the bill allocates funds to investigate drug runners and trafficking activities, giving border officers the resources needed “to hunt down the major players in these cartels,” Schumer said.
The bill also includes $200 million to increase the number of Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI officials along the border “so that wrongdoers can immediately be brought to justice,” Schumer said.
The bill provides funding for border security measures through Sept. 30.
Its passage was blocked in the Senate due to an impasse in how to pay for it. Some senators suggested diverting stimulus funds to pay for the bill, which Schumer said was “unacceptable” on the Senate floor Thursday.
“Border security does not need to come at the expense of creating jobs for millions of Americans,” he said.
The bill passed Thursday is paid for by raising fees on companies who exploit a federal visa program by employing a high percentage of foreign temporary workers, essentially creating multinational temp agencies, commonly in the technology industry. The companies move foreign temp workers among various short-term jobs, collecting consulting and placement fees along the way in what Schumer said the companies advertise as “labor arbitrage.”
Schumer said he hopes the bill will reignite the debate over comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. The bill will “clear the path for restarting the bipartisan discussions … on how best to restore the rule of law to our entire immigration system,” Schumer said.