Senate passes comprehensive immigration reform bill 68-32

DENVER — The U.S. Senate Thursday afternoon approved the most significant immigration overhaul in the last 30 years, moving President Obama’s top second term priority to the GOP-controlled U.S. House.

Senators cast their votes from their seats as Vice President Joe Biden presided over the chamber, the formal procedure reserved for landmark bills, which this legislation — strengthening patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border and creating a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, most certainly is.

Every single Democratic senator, even those facing difficult reelection bids next year, voted in favor of the legislation, crafted by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators that included Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat.

Republicans split, with 32 of them voting against the bill and 14, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, both critical members of the Gang of Eight who argued that passing immigration reform is critical to the GOP’s long-term ability to speak to Latino voters, whose overwhelming support of Democrats last year may have cost them a shot at the White House.

During his closing remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Bennet singled out the Republicans who helped craft the bill for their political courage.

“For reasons that everyone in this chamber understands, their willingness to be at the table and to stay at the table is an act of leadership unlike any other that I’ve seen in this chamber,” he said.

Bennet, like Rubio, also spoke about his family’s immigration story.

“This bill reaffirms that we are a nation that respects the rule of law, and it reaffirms our history that we are a nation of immigrants,” Bennet said.

Rubio, arguably the leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination at this point, likened his own family’s journey to that of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country today.

“Well before they ever became citizens, they had already become Americans,” Rubio said. “We focus so much on how immigrants that we forget: America has always changed immigrants so much more.

“This is not just my story. This is our story.”

The Gang of Eight bill would essentially revamp every corner of U.S. immigration law, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, with several security benchmarks that have to be met before they can obtain a green card. The measure would not only increases security along the border, but requires a mandatory workplace verification system for employers, trying to ensure no jobs are given to immigrants who are not authorized to work in the United States.

It also includes a new visa program for lesser-skilled workers – the product of negotiations between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions. And it shifts the country’s immigration policies away from a family-based system to one that is focused on more on work skills.

But even with 68 senators voting to support the legislation — the Gang of Eight had hoped to get to 70, but two ambivalent Republicans, Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, ended up voting no — it faces an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday that the bill, in its current form, is dead on arrival.

“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” Boehner reemphasized on Thursday. “We’re going to do our own bill, through regular order, and it’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people.”

Republican senators who voted for the bill:

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee;

Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire;

Jeff Chiesa of New Jersey;

Susan Collins of Maine;

Bob Corker of Tennessee;

Jeff Flake of Arizona;

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina;

Orrin Hatch of Utah;

Dean Heller of Nevada;

John Hoeven of North Dakota

Mark Kirk of Illinois;

John McCain of Arizona;

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska;

Marco Rubio of Florida.