U.S. Senate Clears Way for Passage of Immigration Measure

The Senate voted to advance the most significant revisions to U.S. immigration law in a generation, clearing the way for final passage as soon as tomorrow.

By a vote of 67-31, with 60 needed, senators voted to advance a bipartisan bill that includes a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Senators also adopted a related amendment to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border by a 69-29 vote.

“A permanent compromise solution to our dysfunctional system is really in sight,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today. “It is my hope that our colleagues in the House will follow the Senate’s lead and work to pass bipartisan reform and do it now.”

The Senate is concluding its third week of debate on the immigration legislation, which seeks to balance Democrats’ goal of granting citizenship rights with Republicans’ demand for stricter border controls.

Thirteen Republicans, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Orrin Hatch of Utah, supported advancing the bill. All of the opponents were Republicans, including Minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is seeking re-election next year.

Costliest Plan

The border security plan adopted today, the costliest ever, was crafted at the insistence of key Republicans, including Marco Rubio of Florida, a co-sponsor of the broader legislation. It would double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and require an additional 350 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, at a price tag its backers say will reach $38 billion.

“This is about making sure we secure the border and we do it in an objective and verifiable way,” said Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who crafted the amendment with Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.

For some Republicans, including Iowa’s Charles Grassley, the security amendment did not go far enough to allay concerns over whether the border would be secure enough to deter any future wave of illegal immigration.

“As is often the case here in Washington, the solution always seems to be to just throw money at a problem,” Grassley said. “This grand compromise measures the success of the amendment by the amount of money spent, not by outcomes.”

Leahy Proposal

Another potential obstacle to Senate passage of the bill dissolved today when Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, announced he would not seek a vote on his proposal to require equal treatment for same-sex couples when one is foreign national. Leahy said his decision was prompted by the Supreme Court’s decision today to strike down a 1996 federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples.

“With the Supreme Court decision today, it appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I have long advocated will apply to immigration law,” Leahy said on the Senate floor.

U.S. immigration law hasn’t been significantly altered since 1986. A 2007 immigration rewrite died in the Senate and wasn’t considered in the House. The prospects for passage of a bipartisan bill are greater this time because some Republicans see the issue as a way to boost the party’s appeal with Hispanic voters.

Republicans are trying to reconnect with Hispanic voters after President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the votes cast by the fast-growing voter group in the 2012 election.

Still, the bill’s prospects in the Republican-controlled House, where opposition to a citizenship path runs deep, are uncertain.

The House Judiciary Committee, led by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, is considering individual pieces of legislation involving aspects of immigration policy.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said last week that he won’t bring an immigration proposal to a vote unless a majority of the chamber’s 234 Republicans support it.

The Senate bill is S744.

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