Immigration Reform Bill Passes First Test on Senate Floor, Obama Calls for Action

The Senate votes for the first time on Tuesday on a major immigration reform bill. The result could set the stage for weeks of discussion.

Many of the Republicans who voted to proceed on the bill have not yet said whether they will vote for it. Photo: NewsHour/Flickr

The Senate immigration reform bill passed its first procedural hurdle on the floor Tuesday in a 82-15 vote, with only Republicans voting to block the bill from moving forward.

The vote will decide whether to begin debate on this major immigration reform plan that was drafted by eight senators — four Republicans, four Democrats, dubbed the “Gang of Eight.”

Opponents of the bill quickly offered amendments to significantly change or possibly kill the measure if adopted.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa introduced a plan requiring 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.

Their bill made it out of committee last month where it underwent a lot of changes. This is the next and crucial step – a debate on the Senate floor that will almost certainly involve weeks of discussion and a number of amendments that could make the bill stronger, or could sink the bill.

The amendment process begins one of the most contentious periods for the bill in the Senate. Republican opponents of the overhaul are expected to offer a series of amendments that could derail the effort.

Likewise, Democrats will be required to support changes that strengthen enforcement or face defections from key Republicans who have worked on the bill from the beginning, reports the Yahoo! News.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted in favor of Tuesday’s motion to proceed, said he would withhold judgement on whether to support the bill’s final passage until after the amendment process.

“It’s time for the Gang of 100 to do its work — for the entire Senate to have its say on this issue, and see if we can do something to improve the status quo,” McConnell said.

“At the risk of stating the obvious, this bill has serious flaws. I’ll vote to debate it and for the opportunity to amend it, but in the days ahead there will need to be major changes to this bill if it’s going to become law. These include, but are not limited to, the areas of border security, government benefits and taxes.”

Earlier on Tuesday, President Barack Obama sought to inject momentum into the push for U.S. 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 not serious about it—if you think that a broken system is the best America can do—then I guess it might make sense to try to block it,” Obama said of the bill during remarks delivered in the White House East Room.

“But if you’re actually serious and sincere about fixing a broken system, this is the vehicle to do it and now is the time to get it done. There is no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction, just to block the best change we’ve had in years to address this problem.”

The border provisions are likely to be among the most contentious, with many Republican members — including gang of eight member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) – saying the bill, as written, doesn’t have strong enough security measures. Only one Republican outside the gang of eight, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), has announced she will back the bill, says the Huff Post.

The Senate bill would authorize billions of dollars in new spending for enhanced border security and create new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers in addition to providing a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants – many from Mexico and Central America – currently in the country, says Reuters.

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