WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to consider a bill that would offer a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. The vote came after heated debate in the chamber, and the bill still faces an uncertain future.
“This is a time I’ve been looking for for a long long time,” admitted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, acknowledging the momentousness of winning bipartisan support for immigration reform.
Democrats and Republicans agreed that an immigration system that has allowed 11 million undocumented foreigners into the country needs fixing.
Marco Rubio, himself a son of Cuban immigrants, said it also scares away skilled professionals.
“Should we be deporting the best graduates at some of our universities, world class physicists and scientists and people in technology and engineering and math?" Rubio asked. "And yet that’s functionally the way our immigration system works right now."
The bill proposed by Rubio and others would allow undocumented foreigners to apply for citizenship after a 13-year wait.
But fellow Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama voted against even considering it.
“This bill is going to allow more workers to come into this country than we’ve ever allowed before, at a time when unemployment is extraordinarily high, our ability to reduce unemployment is down, wages are down, and our workers are falling below the inflation rate in their wages for years,” Sessions warned.
Republicans are expected to submit a slew of amendments, including one on border security that could kill the bill.
At the White House, President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass the reform this summer.
“There is no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we’ve had in years to address this problem in a way that’s fair to middle class families, to business owners, to legal immigrants,” the president said.
Across from the Capitol, young immigrants who have lived much of their lives in limbo demonstrated in favor.
“It’s sad because I’ve been here since I was a year old, " undocumented immigrant Yves Gomes said, "the United States has been the only home I’ve ever known, and I love my community. All I want to do is get back to my country here.”
“All the people that are here in D.C. fighting, and all the undocumented people in the nation are Americans, but just without papers, and all we want to do is contribute to society," explained illegal immigrant Hareth Andrade.
The Senate majority leader and other proponents know they will need an overwhelming majority if the bill is to have a chance in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“As we move forward I want the amendment process to be as open as possible,” noted Reid.