The US government plans to crack down harder on illegal immigrants, calling for a further boost in the number of border guards and increasing fines for employers who hire illegal workers, officials said.
President George W Bush took action after US lawmakers this year failed to pass major immigration reforms he had backed, including ways to legalize an estimated 11-12 million illegal US residents. The debate centres on Mexicans who fill low-wage US jobs.
"These reforms represent steps my administration can take within the boundaries of existing law to better secure our borders, improve worksite enforcement, streamline existing temporary worker programmes, and help new immigrants assimilate into American society," Bush said.
Last year, Bush ordered the US border patrol increased by 6,000 new agents, bringing the total to more than 18,000. Plans unveiled on Friday call for a further 1,700 border guards in 2009.
Also, funding for detention centres will be increased so the US can hold up to 31,500 illegal aliens until they can be deported.
And the Bush administration will press "recalcitrant countries" to repatriate citizens who are in the US illegally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.
But visa rules for professionals from Mexico and Canada will ease. Their visa term is to be extended from one year to three years, reducing bureaucracy for some 65,000 workers coming to the US each year.
Bush is leaving office in Jan 2009, but illegal immigration is a hot-button issue for supporters of his Republican Party. Some Republican presidential candidates are focussing on immigration as the 2008 election campaign gathers pace.
Left-leaning critics accused Bush of relying too heavily on enforcement and pandering to conservative voters.
"President Bush appears to be attempting to scurry to the front of that sad, right-wing parade," charged Daniel Restrepo of the Centre for American Progress, a Washington think tank.
Other steps announced on Friday are designed to make it harder for illegal immigrants to appeal their deportation and increase pressure on US employers, partly by raising the maximum fine against those who knowingly and repeatedly hire illegal immigrants.
But Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat who has helped lead the fight for a broad overhaul of US immigration law, predicted that the new employer rules would cause "even more confusion about who can be hired, resulting in the unjust firings of legal workers who look foreign."
US officials are also preparing a rule change that will sharply reduce the number of documents that can be used to establish identity and work eligibility. The aim is to cut down on document fraud.
Meanwhile, the government will provide additional training for instructors and volunteers who lead immigrants through the citizenship process, DHS said.