WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate approved a landmark immigration bill yesterday that would provide millions of undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens, but the leader of the House of Representatives said the measure was dead on arrival in the House.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill by a vote of 68-32, with 14 of the Senate’s 46 Republicans joining all 52 Democrats and two independents in support of the bill.
But any air of celebration was tempered by House Speaker John Boehner, who hours before the vote emphasized that Republicans would “do our own bill,” one that “reflects the will of our majority,” many of whom oppose citizenship for immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
Any bill in the Republican-controlled House is expected to focus heavily on border security and finding immigrants who have overstayed their visas.
“Immigration reform has to be grounded in real border security,” Boehner said.
Republican divisions over immigration were evident throughout the U.S. Capitol. While Boehner was putting the brakes on the Senate bill, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, delivered a passionate speech urging passage of the measure that he helped write.
After recounting his parents’ difficult lives in Cuba and their struggles after immigrating to the United States, Rubio said: “For over 200 years now, they (immigrants) have come; in search of liberty and freedom, for sure. But often simply looking for jobs to feed their kids and the chance of a better life.”
At the end of the Senate debate, a packed gallery of supporters, who have labored decades for such a moment, witnessed the vote that came after three weeks of sometimes heated discussion. More than 100 children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents hugged each other when the bill passed.
President Barack Obama, praising the bill, said it contained tough border security requirements and “earned citizenship” for about 11 million undocumented residents. “Today, the Senate did its job. It’s now up to the House to do the same,” Obama said in a statement.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Senate bill “has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Mexicans living in the United States today.”
The Senate vote came after several unsuccessful attempts in the past decade or so to overhaul a U.S. immigration law enacted in 1986. The goal has been to improve an outdated visa system and help U.S. firms get easier access to foreign labor ranging from farm and construction workers to high-skilled employees.Business and labor groups reached a deal on the new visa system, which is part of the Senate bill. But controversy raged over how much new border security was needed and how long the 11 million should wait before becoming legal residents and then citizens.
As the Senate wrapped up its debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recounted the story of a 4-year-old girl, Astrid Silva, who illegally crossed into the United States with her family in a rubber raft 21 years ago.