Sweeping immigration bill passes key Senate hurdle

The Senate will vote on a sweeping immigration reform bill on Thursday afternoon, and a recently hashed-out compromise on border security is expected to win over some conservative support for the measure.

Early Thursday afternoon, the Senate voted 68-32 to end debate on the bill, a key procedural hurdle. A full vote on the bill is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET. Fourteen Republicans voted with the entire Democratic caucus to move the bill forward.

The “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators who drafted the bill, had hoped to get 70 out of 100 senators to vote to pass the bill and send a strong signal to the Republican-controlled house that the legislation is bipartisan. But on Wednesday, test votes drew only 67 votes each, suggesting the bill might fall short of that goal.
The reform will implement a mandatory, national employment verification system, allow for more legal immigration of low- and high-skilled workers, beef up border security and eventually give green cards to most of the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

The bill has moved to the right in the Senate on border security, thanks to an amendment adopted last week that will double the number of Border Patrol officers and increase fencing on the southern border by hundreds of miles before any unauthorized immigrants are offered permanent legal status. But House members working on their own version of immigration reform told The Hill this is not enough: They would prefer that no unauthorized immigrant be offered even temporary legal status until all the border security measures of the bill are fully implemented.

Union leaders representing both Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers say they oppose the bill, and groups that seek lower immigration levels have tried to rally members to call and write senators asking them to kill the bill. But so far, the critics of the bill have been outnumbered. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has worked as a conservative ambassador for the legislation. Rubio will deliver a “closing argument” for immigration reform, highlighting his parents’ journey to the United States.