Vote was 62-36.
Any hope now rests with the House.
The Senate’s 62-36 vote sets up a clash with the House, which in December approved legislation that emphasized strengthening barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border and didn’t account for guest workers or undocumented immigrants.
The congressional debate on immigration has sparked demonstrations across the nation by people demanding immigrant rights, while creating an election-year breach between Republicans who want to focus on border control and those who back new immigration programs.
President George W. Bush, seeking to bridge that divide, has pledged to deploy National Guard troops on the border to boost security, while backing the creation of both a new guest-worker program and a path for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship.
More than 1.1 million people were caught trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2004 and an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now live in the U.S.
The Senate measure would allow as many as 200,000 low- skilled workers a year to come to the U.S. and do jobs for which companies can’t find American workers. It also provides a path to citizenship for many of the undocumented immigrants if they pay a $3,250 fine and back taxes, learn English, and pass a background check.
The treatment of those in the country illegally was one of the most contentious points of debate among senators and will be an obstacle in negotiations with the House, lawmakers said.
“It is an amnesty bill, or a legalization bill, that I think is just fundamentally unfair,” Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum told reporters. “There are very serious problems with this legislation that I hope the House of Representatives will address.”
Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and the Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, both sided with supporters, a reflection of the bipartisan backing for a bill that was months in the drafting and survived several near-death experiences.
Conservative critics attacked the legislation to the end after trying unsuccessfully to pull it apart with amendments.
“This bill will not secure our borders,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of the most persistent critics.
“This is amnesty,” added David Vitter, R-La., who tried last week to strip out provisions relating to citizenship.
Not so, said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in a rebuttal to weeks of debate. “They have to pay a fine. They have to undergo a criminal background check. They have to pay back taxes, they have to learn English and they have to go to the back of the line,” he said, referring to illegal immigrants who would apply for citizenship.
Still, Sessions, Vitter, John Cornyn of Texas and others echoed a view widely held among House Republicans, many of whom have vigorously denounced the Senate bill as well as Bush’s call for a “comprehensive approach” to the issue.
“This is not the final scene of this blockbuster that we have on the Senate floor,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned before the vote began late this afternoon. “There is another act to go.”
GOP Majority Leader John Boehner statement just received via e-mail:
The American people expect Congress to secure our borders and stop the flood of illegal immigration, and House Republicans responded by passing a strong border security bill that re-establishes basic respect for our immigration laws. Now that the Senate has passed a bill, we owe it to the American people to seek common ground on responsible solutions, while always stressing our most important priority is to secure our borders and stop illegal immigration.
“I’m committed to working with Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman King, and House Republicans to ensure we produce a strong bill that meets our commitments to the American people. I would urge House Democrats, who have constantly advocated troubling policies that encourage open borders and invite more illegal immigrants into our country, to join us in supporting a strong bill that addresses the concerns of the American people and makes our borders more secure.”
GOP Rep. Mike Pence statement just received via email:
“The Senate has passed an amnesty bill. Amnesty by any other name is still amnesty. The American people do not support amnesty for illegal immigrants.
“This does not mean, however, that we cannot work together to find a solution to the problem of illegal immigration. The real rational middle ground can be found in a bill that is tough on border security, employer enforcement, and contains a no-amnesty guest worker program run by the private sector.”
Sen. Tom Coburn:
“The American people have been demanding that their elected officials take action to limit illegal immigration first by securing our borders, then by addressing guest worker reform. Unfortunately, this bill reversed those priorities. Rewarding illegal immigrants with amnesty without taking adequate steps to secure our borders is the wrong way to address this problem,” Dr. Coburn said.
“America is a welcoming nation that was built by immigrants, but it is also a nation governed by the rule of law. Rewarding illegal immigrants with a clear path to citizenship and voting rights is unfair to the millions of individuals who immigrated to this country legally. This approach will also make the problem of illegal immigration worse, which is precisely what happened after Congress passed a similar law in 1986,” Dr. Coburn said.
“It is impossible for Congress to accurately assess our need for guest workers before we have taken the steps necessary to secure our borders. It is important for Congress to understand that the public will not trust us on this issue until our borders are secure. Once we take that step, I believe the American people would support a compassionate and common sense plan for dealing with our need for guest workers and the 12 million illegal immigrants who are already here,” Dr. Coburn said.
The Senate today also voted to weaken a provision Dr. Coburn added in the Judiciary Committee that would have made it easier for federal officials to deport illegal immigrants who had committed crimes. Each year, the Oklahoma prison system spends an estimated $11.7 million to incarcerate illegal criminal immigrants.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas:
Congressman Lamar Smith (TX-21) expressed disappointment over the Senate-passed immigration bill that rewards illegal immigrants with amnesty and eventual citizenship. The “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” passed the United States Senate on May 25, by a vote of 62-36.
“It’s hard to justify legislation that would reward millions of law-breakers, attract more illegal immigrants, and depress American workers’ wages,” said Congressman Smith. “The Senate bill may be good for other countries and foreign workers, but it’s not good for America and American workers.”
Although the bill contains some enforcement measures, Smith questioned, “How can a government that has not enforced current immigration laws be expected to enforce new ones?”