Senate leaders have announced a compromise on immigration reform, breaking a deadlock that had threatened to scuttle legislation on the issue.
The bipartisan deal, which was reached after lengthy negotiations, was announced by Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.
"The good news is that, because of the hard work of people who are with me, we have had a huge breakthrough, which will allow us to pivot in the next several hours, that will lead us to the conclusion of passing a very important bill," said Frist.
The compromise is similar to legislation that had been languishing in the Senate for the past two weeks, which includes a guest worker program. But critics of the original bill opposed provisions that would give the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, saying it amounted to amnesty.
The compromise differs by reducing the number of undocumented workers who would be eligible for pursuing citizenship.
Under the deal, illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years would have a chance to become citizens if they meet a series of requirements, including submitting to a background check and paying a fine.
Illegal immigrants, who have been in the United States for less than five years, but more than two years, would have a chance to get a temporary work visa. They would be required to leave the country and re-apply to come back.
Those illegal immigrants who have been in this country for less than two years would have to leave the country, and compete with other foreign residents seeking legal entry.
The Senate's top Democrat, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, is pleased by the compromise, but warns that the legislation could still be scuttled if opponents try to amend it.
"We are not there yet. We cannot declare victory. But we have moved a long ways down the road," he said.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, is one of those opponents of the deal. He says the compromise - like the original bill - still rewards many of those who came to the United States illegally.
"The amnesty provision is now made very clear," he said. "The amnesty provision is simply that, if you were here for more than two years, you have a direct path to citizenship. The only difference is how you get there."
But President Bush backs the compromise, and is urging the Senate to pass the bill before a two-week congressional recess begins Friday.
"I recognize there are still details to be worked out. I would encourage the members to work hard to get the bill done, prior to the upcoming break," he said.
Any Senate-passed legislation will have to be reconciled with a House-passed measure, which does not include a guest worker program, and which focuses on border security and enforcement.