WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation in the U.S. House to further secure U.S. borders against illegal immigration came under attack on Wednesday, not only from Democrats but from a leading conservative voice in the Senate on immigration.
The House Homeland Security Committee sought to complete work on a Republican bill that would clamp down on illegal crossings at the southern border with Mexico by constructing more fencing and by stepping up aerial surveillance.
The added security would come at a cost of $1 billion annually.
"Illegal entries into this country continue at an astounding pace, and criminal enterprises have continued to exploit our weaknesses to get drugs, weapons and other illicit goods into our communities," committee Chairman Michael McCaul said.
But aides to Republican Senator Jeff Sessions issued an analysis of the measure, saying it "does nothing to stop the core problem" of immigrants arriving at the border illegally and being released into the country while awaiting deportation proceedings.
Meanwhile, Democrats attacked the bill, complaining that Republicans abandoned bipartisan legislation that was developed in the last Congress.
Representative Bennie Thompson, the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, said the bill sets unrealistic timetables for security projects and imposes "requirements, seemingly pulled from thin air, for the acquisition and deployment of technology."
Republican leaders were aiming for a debate and vote on the legislation in the full House next week.
In 2013, the Senate passed comprehensive, bipartisan immigration legislation that included a pathway to citizenship for some of the 11 million undocumented residents in the U.S.
That bill died when the Republican-controlled House balked and refused to advance its own version.
In the meantime, Republicans have been arguing among themselves over how to address immigration, especially with the 2016 presidential election coming into focus and the party's need to improve its standing with Hispanic-American voters.
The border security bill could be one of a few measures Republicans may push. Another would increase visas for foreign workers to hold jobs at high-tech U.S. firms.
But there has been no indication that Republicans will deal with the 11 million undocumented people, many of whom have been living in the United States for years. Conservative Republicans oppose what they consider amnesty for them.
In November, President Barack Obama took unilateral action to suspend deportation threats for millions of undocumented residents. Angry House Republicans won passage of a bill that aims to block Obama, but that measure is not likely to clear the Senate.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Ken Wills)