Posted on Wednesday, 06.26.13
Immigration overhaul: Senate passes historic bill
BY DAVID ESPO AND ERICA WERNER
WASHINGTON -- With a solemnity reserved for momentous occasions, the
Senate passed historic legislation Thursday offering the priceless hope
of citizenship to millions of immigrants living illegally in America's
shadows. The bill also promises a military-style effort to secure the
long-porous border with Mexico.
The bipartisan vote was 68-32 on a measure that sits atop President
Barack Obama's second-term domestic agenda. But the bill's prospects are
highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where party leaders
are jockeying for position in advance of expected action next month.
Spectators in galleries that overlook the Senate floor watched
expectantly as senators voted one by one from their desks. Some
onlookers erupted in chants of "Yes, we can" after Vice President Joe
Biden announced the vote result.
After three weeks of debate, there was no doubt about the outcome.
Fourteen Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents to
support the bill.
In a written statement, Obama coupled praise for the Senate's action
with a plea for resolve by supporters as the House works on the issue.
"Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this
bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from
becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen," said the president, who
was traveling in Africa.
In the final hours of debate, members of the so-called Gang of 8, the
group that drafted the measure, frequently spoke in personal terms while
extolling the bill's virtues, rebutting its critics - and appealing to
the House members who turn comes next.
"Do the right thing for America and for your party," said Sen. Bob
Menendez, D-N.J., who said his mother emigrated to the United States
from Cuba. "Find common ground. Lean away from the extremes. Opt for
reason and govern with us."
Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said those seeking legal status after
living in the United States illegally must "pass a background check,
make good on any tax liability and pay a fee and a fine." There are
other requirements before citizenship can be obtained, he noted.
He, too, spoke from personal experience, recalling time he spent as a
youth working alongside family members and "undocumented migrant labor,
largely from Mexico, who worked harder than we did under conditions much
more difficult than we endured."
Since then, he said, "I have harbored a feeling of admiration and
respect for those who have come to risk life and limb and sacrifice so
much to provide a better life for themselves and their families."
The bill's opponents were unrelenting, if outnumbered.
"We will admit dramatically more people than we ever have in our
country's history at a time when unemployment is high and the
Congressional Budget Office has told us that average wages will go down
for 12 years, that gross national product per capita will decline for
25-plus years, that unemployment will go up," said Sen. Jeff Sessions,
"The amnesty will occur, but the enforcement is not going to occur, and
the policies for future immigration are not serving the national interest."
But with a weeklong July 4 congressional vacation looming, the bill's
foes agreed to permit the final vote one day before Senate rules
In the Senate, at least, the developments marked an end to years of
gridlock on immigration. The shift began taking shape quickly after the
2012 presidential election, when numerous Republican leaders concluded
the party must show a more welcoming face to Hispanic voters who had
given Obama more than 70 percent of their support.
Even so, division among Republicans was evident as potential 2016
presidential contenders split. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was one of
the Gang of 8, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas
were opposed to the bill.
The legislation's chief provisions includes numerous steps to prevent
future illegal immigration - some added in a late compromise that
swelled Republican support for the bill - and to check on the legal
status of job applicants already living in the United States. At the
same time, it offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11
million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.
Under the deal brokered last week by Republican Sens. John Hoeven of
North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee and the Gang of 8, the measure
requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of
fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the
Those living in the country illegally could gain legal status while the
border security plan was being implemented, but would not be granted
permanent resident green cards or citizenship.
A plan requiring businesses to check on the legal status of prospective
employees would be phased in over four years.
Other provisions would expand the number of visas available for highly
skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. A separate
program would be established for lower-skilled workers, and farm workers
would be admitted under a temporary program. In addition, the system of
legal immigration that has been in effect for decades would be changed,
making family ties less of a factor and elevating the importance of
education, job skills and relative youth.
With the details of the Senate bill well-known, House Speaker John
Boehner said at a news conference the separate legislation the House
considers will have majority support among Republicans. He also said he
hopes the bill will be bipartisan, and he encouraged a group of four
Democrats and three Republicans trying to forge a compromise to continue
He offered no details on how a House bill could be both bipartisan and
supported by more than half of his own rank and file, given that most of
the bills that have moved through the House Judiciary Committee recently
did so on party line votes over the protests of Democrats. None
envisions legal status for immigrants now in the country illegally.
Boehner declined to say if there were circumstances under which he could
support a pathway to citizenship, but he made clear that securing the
border was a priority.
"People have to have confidence that the border is secure before
anything else is really going to work. Otherwise, we repeat the mistakes
of 1986," he said, referring to the last time Congress overhauled the
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, also said
he favors a bipartisan approach. At the same time, she noted that
Democratic principles for immigration include "secure our borders,
protect our workers, unite families, a path to legalization and now
citizenship for those" without legal status.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this story.
Source: "WASHINGTON: Immigration overhaul: Senate passes historic bill -
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