updated 9/20/2006 4:56:26 PM ET 2006-09-20T20:56:26

Congress took up legislation to require voters to show proof of citizenship and to build a 700 mile fence along the Mexican border as Republicans sharpened their attacks on illegal immigration seven weeks before the midterm elections.

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The House of Representatives debate on a new photo ID plan for voters, and Senate action on the fence, were part of a get-tough policy on illegal immigrants that Republicans have taken in the wake of failure to agree on broader legislation that would set a path for undocumented workers to attain U.S. citizenship.

House Republican leaders have insisted that tighter borders and tougher laws must precede immigration reform. The House passed the fence bill last week and plans to vote on Thursday on bills that will increase penalties for those building tunnels under the border, make it easier to detain and deport immigrant gang members and criminals, and clarify the ability of state and local law enforcement officers to detain illegal immigrants.

Common sense or voter tax?
Republican sponsors of the voter identification bill insisted that it was a common sense way to stop fraud at the polls. People need photo IDs to board planes, buy alcohol or cash checks, said Rep. Vernon Ehlers, chairman of the House Administration Committee. "This is not a new concept."

But opposition Democrats assailed the legislation, saying it would affect minorities, the poor and the elderly - groups that tend to vote Democratic - who might have trouble producing a photo identification.

"This bill is tantamount to a 21st century poll tax," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "It will disenfranchise large number of legal voters."

Proposed measures
The bill would require individuals to present a photo ID before voting in federal elections by 2008. By 2010 voters must have a photo ID that certifies they are citizens. In response to criticisms that this would be a burden for poor citizens, the bill stipulates that states must provide those identification cards free of charge to those who can't afford them. 2006 key races

The Senate, meanwhile, voted to take up a bill that would build a fence along one-third of the U.S. Mexican border.

Action on the fence, which could cost billions of dollars, comes four months after the Senate approved legislation that, along with tightening border security, created a guest worker program and outlined how people in the country illegally could work toward legal status and eventual citizenship. President Bush has supported this broader approach, but it met strong resistance in the House, where opponents said it was tantamount to amnesty for illegal immigrants.

"While I've made it clear that I prefer a comprehensive solution, I have always said we need an enforcement-first approach to immigration reform," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Fris. "Not enforcement only, but enforcement first."

But Democratic leader Harry Reid countered that "we can build the tallest fence in the world and it won't fix our broken immigration system." To do that, he said, "we need the kind of comprehensive reform that the Senate passed earlier this year."

The bill would not provide funding to cover costs of the fencing and other barriers aimed at preventing illegal entry. About $1 billion for the fencing is likely to be included in a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security that Congress is expected to approve before its scheduled adjournment next week for the Nov. 7 elections.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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