The US Senate will try again within weeks to break the deadlock on immigration reform, the leader of Senate business says. Bill Frist was speaking after huge demonstrations on May 1 illustrated immigrants' demands for more liberal policies.
Congress is caught between competing bills that would either criminalise or legitimise illegal immigrants. But Mr Frist said his attempts at reconciliation would focus on "border security first and foremost."
He said any reform should start "by tightening our borders."
But Mr Frist, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, acknowledged that legislation also had to address the estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the US.
"We don't know who they are. They're in the shadows and we need to devise a plan to bring them out of the shadows, short of amnesty, but treats them in a fair and compassionate way," he said on CBS television.
More than a million immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, took part in a day of nationwide action on May 1 to protest against any moves to criminalize illegal immigration. Mass rallies were staged across the US as immigrants boycotted work or school and avoided spending money as a way of showing their worth to the economy.
The protests were aimed at persuading Congress to abandon the tough measures in a bill passed last year by the US House of Representatives that includes provisions to criminalise illegal immigrants and bolster border security. Meanwhile a bipartisan Senate bill, currently stalled, would provide illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship and a guest-worker programme long favoured by President George W Bush.White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president was not "a fan of boycotts" and was keen to see the new immigration laws approved.