WASHINGTON - A Senate committee approved a sweeping immigration overhaul Tuesday that would provide a path to citizenship for up to 11 million people, setting the stage for the full Senate to consider the landmark legislation next month.
After five days of debate over dozen of amendments, the Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 in support of the bill, with three Republicans joining the committee's 10 Democrats. The legislation emerged with its core provisions largely intact, including new visa programs for high-tech and low-skilled workers and new investments in strengthening border control.
"The dysfunction in our current immigration system affects all of us and it is long past time for reform," said the committee chairman, Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.). "I hope that our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action. We need an immigration system that lives up to American values and helps write the next great chapter in American history by reinvigorating our economy and enriching our communities."
President Obama, who has made immigration reform his top second-term priority, issued a statement praising the committee for approving a bill that is "largely consistent" with the principles he had outlined.
The bill is headed to the full Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky urged fellow Republicans on Tuesday not to block the bill from a floor vote. The Congressional Budget Office will take two weeks to issue an assessment of the fiscal cost of the bill, so Democratic aides said the floor debate could begin about June 10.
The final Judiciary Committee vote represented a victory for the bipartisan group - four Democrats and four Republicans - that negotiated the 850-page bill over several months. Their delicate agreement hinged on several major provisions worked out between the negotiators, whose balance could have been threatened during the amendment process.
But four of the bipartisan group members who are on the committee banded together to fight off the most serious challenges to the core provisions, including a last-minute attempt from Leahy to add protections for same-sex couples.
In an emotional debate, Sens. Charles Shumer (D., N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (D., Ill.) said they wanted to support Leahy's amendment but that they would not because GOP members of the group, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said they would drop support if the provision were added to the legislation.
Leahy ultimately withdrew the amendment.