Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. embraces Astrid Silva, of Las Vegas, a DREAM Act supporter whose family came to the U.S. from Mexico illegally and whose story has been an inspiration for Reid during work on the immigration reform bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate passes immigration bill in historic vote

In a historic bipartisan vote, the Senate voted 68-32 to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It was the first attempt to tackle such a sweeping reform in six years.

Fourteen Republicans joined with all Democrats to back the legislation. The bill revamps the nation’s legal immigration system, sends resources to the nation’s southern border, and offers a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“We’ve taken a giant step forward to solving our immigration problem today,” Gang of Eight member Senator Schumer (D-NY) said at a press conference. “America has always been a nation of immigrants and every time someone says turn your back on the immigrant – they lose.”

Marking the momentous occasion, senators on Thursday voted from their desks – a practice typically reserved for historic votes. Vice President Joe Biden presided over the vote, adding to the pageantry of it all. The last time Biden presided over a Senate vote was in April when the Senate voted on expanded background checks for gun purchases.

President Obama praised the Senate for passing the bill.

“The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise.  By definition, nobody got everything they wanted.  Not Democrats.  Not Republicans.  Not me.  But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out,” he said in a statement.

The drafters of the legislation made deeply personal pleas for passage of the bill on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon. Florida conservative Marco Rubio described the bill as a compassionate and economically sound measure. The Cuban-American’s support was key to gaining Republican support for the measure.

“Even with all our challenges, we remain the shining City on the Hill. We are still the hope of the world,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida conservative and Cuban-American whose support of the legislation was key to wooing Republican support. “Go to our factories and fields. Go to our kitchens and construction sites. Go to the cafeteria of this very capitol. There, you will find that the miracle of America still lives.”

Immigration activists and undocumented immigrants packed the Senate gallery and erupted into cheers when Biden announced the vote tally. Chants of “yes we did” filled the chamber even as Biden asked those attending to refrain from reacting. Evelyn Rivera, United We Dream National Coordinating Committee Member, was one of the 100 Dreamers gathered in the Senate  to watch the vote on the bill. She said that she partly credits the work of young activists to the bill’s success in the Senate.

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“The momentum on immigration reform is the direct result of organizing muscle across the country by immigrant youth leaders and our allies and the result of power wielded by Latino and immigrant community voters at the ballot box,” Rivera said.

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Tx) said he was pleased to see the bill pass and looked forward to working on immigration reform in the House.

“Our nation was built and continues to grow on the shoulders of immigrants. In America, from generation to generation, we witness the many contributions immigrants have made to help make our nation what it is today. As a proud product of San Antonio, Texas, I am encouraged to see my colleagues in the Senate acknowledge the core role immigrants play in our nation,” he said. “As the debate moves to the House of Representatives, I’m proud to join the millions of Americans calling for comprehensive immigration reform to become a reality.”

Despite the great fanfare surrounding the passage of the bill, immigration faces a rocky path in the Republican-controlled House, where there is strong opposition to the path to citizenship provision. Earlier today, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reiterated his stance that the House will not bring up the Senate immigration bill.

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

Boehner instead pointed to a piecemeal approach to the immigration legislation, focused on border security and enforcement.

On Thursday the Senate passed the Corker-Hoeven amendment, intended to boost border security by adding 20,000 more border agents, increase border fencing to 700 miles, and utilize enhanced surveillance methods to monitor the border between the United States and Mexico. The aim of the amendment’s intent is to ease passage of the immigration reform bill in the Senate and more importantly the House of Representatives. The main sticking point for many Republican legislators was that they did not feel the original bill did enough to secure the border.

Speaking after the bill was passed, Senator McCain called on the House to take up the legislation.

“We stand ready to sit down and negotiate with you,” McCain said. “We should all share the same goal to take 11 million people out of the shadows, secure our borders and make sure this it the nation of opportunity and freedom that we’ve envisioned it to be since it was founded.”

Senator Menendez also pressed the House to pass the legislation.

“I urge my colleagues in the House of Republicans that this is an opportunity to affect the lives of millions, create a more robust economy, and reduce the deficit,” he said.

Advocacy groups Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and Voto Latino similarly expressed their hopes that comprehensive reform would not stop at the Senate.

“Today, we won a historic battle in the Senate, but the war wages on. Until we pass humane, just and comprehensive immigration reform we will continue to fight to improve the bill even as we are working to move it forward,” said FIRM’s Kica Matos. “Immigration reform is first and foremost about families and the moral crisis that our broken immigration system visits on our nation’s communities every day. We will not forget or forgive those who stand for policies that delay immediate action to end the destruction of our families.”

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