WASHINGTON — A historic overhaul of the country's immigration system appears headed for easy Senate approval after a lopsided Monday night vote in favor of advancing the measure.
Big margins on votes have become pretty rare in the current polarized Washington environment, but the tally was a bipartisan 67-27 to advance legislation that would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.
The measure also calls for billions of dollars to be spent on manpower and technology to secure the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, including a doubling of the Border Patrol with 20,000 new agents.
A final vote is expected later in the week.
Despite the broad support for the bill, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was the only senator from Iowa or Nebraska to vote with the majority.
Monday night's vote was actually focused on a 1,200-page rewrite of the bill aimed at bolstering border security.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted against it, comparing many of the legislation's provisions to the now-banned practice of earmarking federal funds for pet projects.
Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, both Nebraska Republicans, also voted against the proposal.
“I recognize our system is broken, but the solution begins with border security so we aren't back in this same spot a decade from now,” Johanns said. “Unfortunately, this amendment's promise of secure borders is not airtight.”
“Rather than simply throwing taxpayer money at the problem with promises of dramatic improvements, we need a proposal that brings about verifiable, measurable results along the southern border,” she said.
Johanns and Fischer cited a laundry list of concerns with the proposal. For example, they both criticized the legislation for giving too much discretion to the Secretary of Homeland Security and raised the prospect of government entitlement programs delivering benefits to those in the country illegally.
Monday's vote came as President Barack Obama campaigned from the White House for the bill.
“Now is the time to do it,” Obama said at the White House before meeting with nine business executives who support a change in immigration laws. He added, “I hope that we can get the strongest possible vote out of the Senate so that we can then move to the House and get this done before the summer break” beginning in early August.
He said the measure would be good for the economy, for business and for workers who are “oftentimes exploited at low wages.”
Proponents hope that a show of overwhelming Senate support could create more pressure for House GOP leadership to bring the bill to the floor, but members adamantly opposed to the legislation are doing everything they can to kill it.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has blasted the latest version of the Senate bill as “full-blown amnesty.”
He said the border security provisions would not be enforced by the administration.
“Registered provisional immigrant status is a form of legalization that allows illegal aliens to work, affords them a Social Security number and a passport, and allows them to legally bring in their relatives,” King said. “Even worse, the amendment adds additional amnesty provisions not in the underlying bill that allow future visa over-stayers to become legal residents — amnesty in perpetuity.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press