WASHINGTON -- The Senate Thursday voted 68-32 to overhaul the nations immigration system, an ambitious plan that creates a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while requiring tough new steps to secure the nations borders.
The measure, the most sweeping changes to immigration law since the 1980s, now faces a perilous path in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said flatly, The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. Were going to do our own bill.
Though the outcome of the vote was long known, Senate leaders created fresh drama by having members take the unusual step of voting in their seats, a practice reserved for only the most momentous occasions. One by one, senators rose from their seats to declare their votes, as a packed Senate gallery looked on, including an entire section of college students and parents wearing bright blue United We Dream T-shirts.
The Senate vote was a robust endorsement to a thousand-page bill painstakingly crafted by a Gang of Eight senators from both parties and amended this week to bring in some skeptics. Fourteen Republicans joined 52 Democrats and two independents in voting yes Thursday, while 32 Republicans voted no.
Debate was unusually impassioned.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., invoked the spirit of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who worked feverishly to enact immigration legislation before his death in 2009.
Senator Kennedy knew the day would come when a group of senators divided by party, but united by love of country, would see this fight to the finish, Reid said as he closed the debate.
That day is today. And while I am sad that Senator Kennedy isnt here to see history made, I know he is looking down on us proudly. He is not alone.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a key architect of the bill, had endured sharp criticism from conservatives for his efforts to find common ground. Before he voted yes Thursday, he recalled his parents, who came to this country from Cuba.
Well before they became citizens, in their hearts they had already become Americans, he said. It reminds us that sometimes we focus so much on how immigrants could change America, that we forget that America changes immigrants even more.
This is not just my story, Rubio said. This is our story. It reminds us that we are E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.
Under the legislation, employers would have to check on a potential employees legal status, and the number of visas available for skilled worked needed by the technology industry would be increased.
The measure would create a 13-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Those eligible could first apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, and achieve that status if they pass a background check, have not been convicted of a serious crime, pay any taxes owed and pay a $500 fine.
The registration would be valid for six years, allowing the immigrants to work and travel. After that time, the status could be renewed, as long as the same conditions are met. They also would have to show they had been regularly employed and had sufficient financial resources.
After 10 years, the status could again be adjusted. Immigrants would have to meet new requirements, including proficiency in English and a new $1,000 fine. Three years after that, in most cases, they could achieve citizenship.