CAPITOL HILL —
The U.S. Senate has approved a landmark overhaul of immigration laws by a 68 to 32 vote. The bill is a top item on President Barack Obama’s agenda, but faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives.
The Senate’s comprehensive reform bill provides a long and arduous path to residency and eventual U.S. citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Democrat Richard Durbin helped craft the bill and explains the provisions.
“To have 11 million people come forward, identify themselves, register with our government, pay their taxes, pay a fine, submit themselves to a criminal background check before we allow them to stay in this country," he said.
The bill also seeks to streamline legal immigration, with an emphasis on attracting high-skilled workers. And it mandates a “surge” in U.S. border security, as noted by Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
“This proposal mandates the most border and interior security measures in our nation’s history. For example, it requires and funds the completion of 700 miles [1,126 kilometers] of real border fence. It adds 20,000 new border agents. It details a specific technology plan for [monitoring] each sector of the border," he said.
All Democratic senators backed the bill, joined by about one-third of Republicans. Opponents, like Senator David Vitter, doubt it will achieve its security goals.
“The amnesty is first, virtually immediately. The enforcement is later, maybe," he said.
Other Republicans argued adding millions of undocumented immigrants to America’s legal workforce would depress wages and add to unemployment.
But according to a non-partisan congressional analysis, the Senate bill would boost U.S. economic growth and reduce federal deficits, a projection highlighted by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.
“Fewer illegal immigrants, higher GDP [gross domestic product], more jobs, reduced deficit," he said. "Who could oppose that?”
Republican Bob Corker was one of many senators who noted the vast contributions immigrants make to America, regardless of their legal status.
"They are walking across our border to work hard, to do all kinds of things. They create companies and they are entrepreneurs. They also raise our kids, they serve us meals, they bring our crops in, they build our homes, they build our buildings. They want to participate in the American dream," he said.
But opposition to the Senate’s vision for immigration reform runs high among Republicans who control the House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has ruled out a vote on the Senate bill.
Instead, the House could pass border security measures mirroring Senate provisions, but skip legalization of the undocumented. An enforcement-only approach would be unacceptable to Democrats, including President Obama.
On Twitter, the reaction to the bill's Senate passage hinted at the divisive debate expected in the lower house of Congress.