WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a politically fraught immigration reform bill on Thursday that would give a path to citizenship to some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., bringing them out of the shadows and preventing continued record deportations that have separated hundreds of thousands of families.
The bill passed 68 to 32, picking up all Democrats and 14 Republicans.
Undocumented immigrants and advocates in the crowd, many of them young so-called Dreamers, broke out into applause and chants of “yes we can!” after Vice President Joe Biden, who came to the Senate to preside over the proceedings, read the results. Senators in the bipartisan “gang of eight” that drafted the bill — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) — patted each other on the back.
Just before the vote Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dedicated the decision, in part, to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who worked for reform but never saw it signed into law.
"Senator Kennedy knew the day would come when a group of senators, divided by party, but united by love of country, would see this fight to the finish," Reid said. "So the day is today. And while I am sad that Senator Kennedy isn’t here to see history made, I know he is looking at us proudly and loudly."
Although sponsors didn’t get to the 70 votes they hoped for, the full support from Democrats and addition of Republican votes was significant. McCain, Rubio, Flake and Graham were joined in voting “yes” by Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
The bill doesn’t please everyone, but its passage is a victory for those who have been working on the issue for years and watched immigration reform fail six years ago. It addresses undocumented immigrants, legal immigration, border security, employer hiring and an entry-exit system so the government knows if foreign nationals leave the country when their visa expires. The path to citizenship is long — likely 13 years or more — and arduous, but advocates are thrilled that it would exist at all, given opposition from many Republicans and the failure of bills to carve out such a path in the past. Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, would be able to earn green cards in five years, as would some agricultural workers.