WASHINGTON – The US Senate passed an immigration reform bill that seeks to legalize the status of 11 million undocumented foreign workers, including 300,000 Filipinos overstaying their visas, and strengthen the security of America’s border with Mexico.
The bill passed by a comfortable margin of 68 to 32 with 14 Republicans joining 52 Democrats and two independents in voting for it.
Now comes the hard part.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has to pass some version of the bill, but given the opposition expressed by majority members the odds are not favorable.
President Barack Obama lauded the Senate for passing the immigration bill but said much remained to be done.
As the bill winds its way in the House, opponents will try their hardest to stop the reform from becoming a reality, Obama said. “We cannot let that happen.”
As if to emphasize the difficulties ahead, House Speaker John Boehner said his chamber will not simply take up what the Senate passes.
“We’re going to do our own bill through regular order and it will be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people,” he said.
Included in the Senate immigration bill is a clause that will fast-track the visa applications to the US of some 20,000 adult sons and daughters of Filipino World War II veterans.
The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification amendment was introduced by Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono to speed up the reunion of veterans who have become naturalized Americans and their children living in the Philippines.
Because of high demand from the Philippines for immigrant visas to the US, it takes adult children of Filipinos who have become naturalized Americans as long as 20 years to get permission to immigrate.
Gang of 8
Chants of “Yes we did!” erupted from the public galleries after senators voted to approve the landmark legislation, which pours unprecedented resources into border security, revamps legal immigration and requires a 13-year wait before those without papers can apply to become US citizens.
Fourteen Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic side in what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deemed a historic vote.
As Vice President Joe Biden presided over the chamber, Reid took the rare move of calling on members to cast votes from their Senate desks.
“We’ve taken giant steps forward towards solving our immigration problem today,” an elated Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the four Democrats who crafted the bill with four Republicans in the so-called “Gang of 8,” told reporters.
The measure now faces a rocky road in the Republican-led House of Representatives, but Schumer and Republican Gang of 8 Senator John McCain made a direct appeal to their colleagues on the other side of the US Capitol: work with us to achieve the most important immigration reform in a quarter century.
“To our friends in the House, we ask for your consideration, and we stand ready to sit down and negotiate with you,” McCain said.
“We may have different views on different aspects of this issue but we should all of us here have the same goal, and that is to take 11 million people out of the shadows, secure our borders, and make sure this is a nation of opportunity and freedom.”
Obama welcomed the Senate vote and urged the House to follow suit.
“Today, with a strong bipartisan vote, the United States Senate delivered for the American people, bringing us a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all,” Obama said.
But the president warned the bill’s supporters to “keep a watchful eye” on efforts to scupper reform, saying “now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart.”
The bill’s authors spent months crafting the 1,000-plus-page document, which pours $46 billion into border security and other efforts, including electronic employment verification and a modernized entry-exit system.
It requires immigrants to pass background checks, pay fees, fines and back taxes, learn English, gain employment, and as Reid said, “stay out of trouble.”
The bill was debated for three weeks on the Senate floor and dozens of amendments were added as Republicans squared off against one another over the merits of the legislation.
Obama hopes to sign immigration reform into law this year, but several House Republicans have said the bill will be dead in the water without significant changes, particularly on border security.
Mexico welcomed passage of the bill, with the foreign ministry saying in a statement that it had the potential to improve the lives of millions of Mexicans living in the United States.