UPDATE 1-U.S. Senate backs border amendment to immigration bill
WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a $46 billion plan to increase federal law enforcement efforts at the U.S. border with Mexico, a move aimed at winning bipartisan passage this week of a comprehensive immigration bill.
The amendment approved by the Senate aims to double, to around 40,000, the number of U.S. agents patrolling the southwestern border, complete the construction of 700 miles (1,126 km) of border fence and enable the purchase of high-tech surveillance and other equipment to detect illegal border crossings.
The Senate backed the border security amendment by a vote of 69-29, with 15 of 46 Republicans joining all 52 Democrats and two independents.
None of the top four Senate Republican leaders voted for the amendment, however, in a sign of continuing divisions within the party over immigration legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents.
"I don't know how any Republican could look a TV camera or a constituent in the eye and not say that this amendment strengthens ... the border and makes our border more secure," said Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who helped write the amendment.
Corker added that if a majority of Republicans voted against the bill, which it did, "Democrats are going to own the border security issue," which has long been argued by Republicans.
Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa countered that he was skeptical that the 20,000 additional border security agents actually would be hired over the next 10 years.
He also said the amendment "makes bold promises that may throw more money at the border, but there's no accountability to get the job done."
Republican opposition to a comprehensive immigration bill like the Senate's runs deep in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where no guarantees have been given that legislation will be advanced to legalize and ultimately allow citizenship for the 11 million undocumented residents.