Senate Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday banded together to move forward on a controversial immigration bill that the Bush administration hopes will ultimately result in a domestic policy victory.
The immigration reform bill stalled in Congress earlier this month, but President Bush said he is optimistic that it will win approval in the Senate by the end of the week.
The president said his administration will focus on building support in the House as soon as senators pass the measure.
The broad-ranging bill would tighten security at the border, implement a temporary guest worker program and legalize the nation's 12 million undocumented workers, while requiring them to pay fines and return temporarily to their native countries.
Republican critics have called the bill an amnesty program for illegal immigrants. Many compare it to a 1986 amnesty bill that made it unlawful to hire illegal workers, but whose enforcement provisions were watered down and then ignored.
To ease their concerns, Mr. Bush has pledged his administration would spend $4.4 billion to implement security measures, including a mandatory computer program to check the legal status of newly hired employees.
On the opposite side of the aisle, many Democrats dislike some of the bill's harsh provisions.
It would change the way visas are awarded, moving away from a system that favors family ties to one that is favors an applicant's education and job skills.
Now, senators are expected to begin debate on nearly two dozen amendments, including one that would restore some of the weight given to family ties in the awarding of visas.
Another amendment would give officials more time for background checks on applications for so-called Z visas, which would be given to undocumented workers.
The special visas are supposed to be granted on a probationary basis within a day of an application. But conservatives argue that is not enough time to do a thorough investigation.
If the expedited background check is eliminated, it would make the bill less appealing to Hispanic and labor groups, who say the provisions dealing with undocumented workers are already too harsh.
Sonya Ramirez , legislative representative for the AFL-CIO, said excessive fees would create barriers to legal status for people who are now in the U.S.
The AFL-CIO has announced its opposition to the bill.
With reporting from NPR and The Associated Press