Immigration bill clears early test vote; Obama calls for action

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly voted yesterday to begin consideration of a White House-backed bill to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, burying a procedural roadblock that opponents regularly use to delay or kill legislation.

With last November’s election indicating broad support for the landmark measure, even some senators who have expressed opposition voted to allow the debate and amendment process to commence.

By a vote of 82-15, the Senate cleared the way for consideration of the measure that could stretch through the end of this month.

Foes quickly offered amendments to change or even kill it.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa introduced a plan to require the Obama administration to certify “effective control over the entire southern border” for a period of six months before any of the 11 million undocumented residents in the United States could begin applying for legal status.

“Border security first, legalize second,” Grassley said.

The legalization and ultimate citizenship for the 11 million is a central component of the bill. Democrats and some Republicans have vowed to block any measure that leaves their fate in doubt indefinitely.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and a chief supporter of the bill, filed three amendments, including one to provide to lawfully married same-sex couples protection that other spouses now enjoy.

The measure would allow U.S. citizens to seek permanent resident status – a green card – for a foreign same-sex partner.

“Seeking equal protection under our laws … is the right thing to do,” said Leahy. The liberal Democrat had pulled the amendment from consideration by his panel last month, knowing it did not have enough support to be added to the bill.

Nearly 50 amendments had been filed by late Tuesday.

The first of them could be voted on as early as Wednesday if Democrats and Republicans reach a deal on how to proceed with them. Earlier on Tuesday, President Barack Obama sought to inject momentum into the push for immigration reform.

“If you genuinely believe we need to fix our broken immigration system, there’s no good reason to stand in the way of this bill,” Obama said at the White House just hours before the Senate staged its first vote on the measure.

“If you’re serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it,” he said.

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