Senate approves fence along southern border

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved $1.83 billion to construct a triple-layered fence along the southwestern border to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.

In a vote of 94-3, the Senate embraced the amendment to a fiscal 2007 defense spending bill expected to pass this week.

"By passing my amendment today, we are sending a signal that we are serious about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants over the border," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who wrote the amendment.

The Senate vote follows congressional approval recently of President George W. Bush’s request for money to fund additional border patrols.

In May, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill that authorized construction of the 370 mile fence and 461 miles of vehicle barriers along the porous border.

Since then, Sessions has been trying to win Senate approval of the money to actually build the fence. A recent attempt to add the money to a fiscal 2007 domestic security bill failed.

He won overwhelming support this time, however, in part by paying for the project with emergency funds carved out by a Senate-passed budget blueprint, according to an aide.

There are an estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States and border security has become a volatile issue that could play a role in November congressional elections.

Congressional conservatives want tighter enforcement of northern and southern borders, while others, including Bush, back legislation that also would put most of the immigrants already here illegally on a path to U.S. citizenship.

Politicians of varying stripes recognize the need to toughen border enforcement, in part due to concerns about terrorists crossing illegally into the United States.

But with few days left in this year’s legislative session, doubts are rising that the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives can agree on a compromise immigration reform bill.