The Senate approved a measure Thursday to make the most dramatic changes to immigration law in 25 years. It would give a path to citizenship to some 11 million undocumented immigrants, dramatically boost border security, and create a new work visa program for future immigrants. The measure passed with a bipartisan vote of 68-32, though a narrow majority of Senate Republicans opposed the legislation.
But the legislation faces an uncertain outcome in the House, where Republicans view the bill with outright hostility.
"I consider this an astounding success. An astounding success. You could ratify a treaty or override a veto. This is as good as it gets in the Senate," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the members of the "Gang of Eight" Republicans and Democrats that crafted the legislation.
"I thought we could probably get a majority at the beginning. I certainly didn't think we could get 68 votes. That's pretty impressive," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another leading Republican supporter.
The Senate's final vote, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats, was the result of dozens of lawmakers accepting things that they would normally reject for the sake of passing a comprehensive bill. Democrats still fret that the bill's massive influx of troops and drones on the border, requested by Republicans, will create militarized zones and hurt local communities. Republicans fear that the path to citizenship, requested by Democrats, will encourage more illegal immigration in the future.
In that sense, the bill's passage also marks a rare example where lawmakers compromised on a tough issue at a time when the political differences of both parties are so stark.
The moment isn't lost on the GOP-controlled House, where Republicans are deeply divided on whether to give undocumented immigrants any type of legal status. At least half of them are solid 'no' votes on anything approaching the Senate proposal. Many think illegal immigrants should not become citizens under the procedures set forth in the Senate bill. The House members are working their way through a series of smaller measures that they hope can compete with the Senate bill.
House Republicans are unmoved by the sense of urgency projected by immigration reform advocates. "The bottom line is it's been since 1986 that there was legislation related to immigration reform. I don't know what a couple more months is going to hurt," said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration Subcommittee.
Gowdy is friends with Senate "gang" member Lindsey Graham, who hails from his home state, but he says he disagrees with Graham's approach to immigration. Graham acknowledges that South Carolina has its share of "self-deportation, put 'em in jail folks ... I've lost those people. They're there, but I lost them a long time ago," he said.
Graham's advice to the House? "Take up immigration on your own timetable and the way you would like to see it happen. Just address the issue. If you don't like our bill, do one of your own."