Senate votes 68-32 to pass immigration bill; Hatch and Lee split on the issue
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
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.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted for the bill, joining other Republicans like Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Utah's other senator, Sen. Mike Lee, did not vote for the bill, announcing his vote on Twitter and linking to his floor speech in which he said he supports immigration reform, but believes things like modernizing the U.S. visa system, helping those who have waited in line to come to the U.S. through current legal channels and ensuring the borders are secure before starting a path to citizenship, should be priorities.
"The bill we have before us today is an enormous disappointment. The American people deserve better." Lee said. "As a matter of public policy, this bill fails to meet many of the goals that we set to meet at the beginning of the process."
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, R-Ala.
"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 mandated it.
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