WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate stood poised Thursday to approve immigration legislation opening the door to U.S. citizenship to millions and promising a dramatic build-up of manpower and technology along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The vote on final passage of the White House-backed bill was expected as early as Thursday afternoon, after a series of procedural votes so far this week demonstrated supporters command a bipartisan majority well over the 60 votes needed to secure passage in the 100-member chamber and send the bill to the House. First must come two more procedural tests set for Thursday morning.
President Barack Obama, whose second-term agenda was quickly complicated by scandals like the improper targeting of political groups by the federal tax agency, could use a big legislative victory like the passage of an immigration bill.
Both political parties in a bitterly divided Congress have found some rare common ground on immigration reform, with Republicans focusing on the issue after overwhelmingly losing the growing Hispanic vote in last year’s presidential election.
“It’s landmark legislation that will secure our borders and help 11 million people get right with the law,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democra., said on the Senate floor Thursday ahead of the votes.
Countered Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican. “This bill may pass the Senate today, but not with my vote. And in its current form, it won’t become law.”
Supporters posted 67 votes or more on each of three procedural tests Wednesday. More than a dozen Republicans sided with Democrats on each, ensuring bipartisan support that the bill’s backers hope will change minds in the House.
The outlook there is uncertain. Many House conservatives oppose the pathway to citizenship at the center of the Senate bill. And many prefer a piecemeal approach rather than a sweeping bill like the one the Senate is producing.
These conservative are taking a tough stand on immigration in hopes of warding off challenges from even more conservative Republicans in primary elections next year.
The House Judiciary Committee is in the midst of a piece-by-piece effort, turning its attention Thursday to a bill on high-skilled workers.
On Wednesday the committee signed off on legislation establishing a system to require all employers to check their workers’ legal status on a faster timeframe than the Senate bill contemplates. And last week it approved two other measures, one establishing a new agricultural guest worker program and a second making illegal presence in the country a federal crime, instead of a civil offense as it is now.
None of the bills weighed by the Judiciary Committee contemplate a path to citizenship or even legalization for the millions already here.
At its core, the legislation in the Senate includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration, while at the same time it offers a chance at citizenship to the 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.
It provides for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, requires the completion of 700 miles (1,226 kilometers) of fencing and requires an array of high-tech devices to be deployed to secure the border with Mexico.
Businesses would be required to check on the legal status of prospective employees. Other provisions would expand the number of visas 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.