The Senate was poised Thursday to pass sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation’s legal immigration system, send unprecedented resources to the nation’s southern border and offer millions of undocumented immigrants a path to legal status and eventual citizenship.
An earlier vote on the Senate's last procedural measure, which required 60 votes for passage, was 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats to clear the way for the bill’s final passage. The final vote, expected to pass by a similar margin, is set for 4pm Thursday afternoon.
But the bill remains many hard-fought steps from the president's desk, and the victory for backers of the reform may ultimately be short-lived.
Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, the immigration legislation faces a rocky path in the GOP-controlled House, where opposition to the citizenship provision is significantly stronger. House Speaker John Boehner has pledged not to bring the Senate bill up for a vote, pointing instead to smaller pieces of immigration legislation focused on border security and enforcement. On Thursday, he reiterated that he will not bring legislation to the House floor that does not have majority support from the Republican conference, and he extended that pledge even to merged legislation that could blend House- and Senate-passed bills.
Still, the Senate's passage of the bill represents the furthest legislative progress on a comprehensive immigration bill since 2006. That effort passed the upper chamber but languished without support from the House. Another attempt in 2007 fell well short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation in the Senate.
The current bill -- originally drafted by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” with input from business, labor and immigrant rights groups -- survived a lengthy editing process in the Senate Judiciary Committee without major changes to the underlying bill.
The home stretch for the months-long Senate process to pass the bill comes after a last-minute deal to add a massive influx of funding and resources for the U.S.-Mexico border, doubling the number of border security agents on patrol and requiring the completion of 700 miles of fencing. That compromise – labeled “almost overkill” by co-sponsor Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee – was designed to bring more Republicans on board to push the legislation over the finish line.
Opponents of the border “surge” drafted by Republican Sens. Corker and John Hoeven of North Dakota say there’s no guarantee that the legislation’s border security goals will be met before undocumented workers are eligible to apply for green cards.
The legislation's foes also contend that the citizenship proposal amounts to "amnesty" that rewards lawbreakers without sufficient protections against new waves of illegal immigration.
Backers are slated to fall short of their goal of 70 votes for the legislation, after a handful of GOP lawmakers considered possible yes votes were unable to include amendments to the legislation.
As predicted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate will wrap up its work on the bill before it departs for its July 4 recess.