Senate Passes Sweeping Immigration Reform

Senate-passed bill bolsters border security, provides 11 million with path to citizenship.

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., two of the authors of the immigration reform bill crafted by the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight," shake hands on Capitol Hill.

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It was a vote so rare that senators were instructed to sit at their desks, an action reserved only for historic moments on the Senate floor.

The Senate voted 68 to 32 Thursday to pass the Border Security, Economic, Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, one of the most dramatic immigration overhauls to pass the Senate in decades.

The legislation will put 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally on a path to citizenship, boost border security and set up a system to keep American business owners from hiring illegal immigrants.

As senators filed into their seats, not only the magnitude of immigration reform, but the spirit of bipartisanship hung over the chamber as the original architects of the bill, the "gang of eight" reflected on the legislative battles that lie behind them.

[POLL: Should the Senate Have Passed Immigration Reform?]

"We cussed one another, we cheered one another and we wrote this bill together," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on the floor before the vote.

The bill attracted 14 Republicans, a key step to boosting the bill's momentum before it goes to the GOP-controlled House where the odds for bipartisan immigration reform remain slim.

House Speaker John Boehner doubled down Thursday on his promise that he will not bring any legislation to the floor that cannot garner a majority of the Republican caucus, even a compromised agreement that may be forged between the House and the Senate in conference committee.

"For any legislation, including the conference report, to pass the House it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of the majority of our members," Boehner said.

 

One of the reasons the legislation was able to garner so much Republican backing Thursday was that from the beginning, the gang of eight brought together some of Washington's oddest policy bedfellows.

The Chamber of Commerce and unions like the AFL-CIO came together to negotiate the future flow of low-skilled workers, the American Farm Bureau and the American Farm Workers Union agreed on a program to reform the number of farm workers brought to the country and the Catholic church and evangelicals came together to prod the process along.

But the legislation does not come without political costs to some.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recognized that his key role in the debate may cost him his 2014 re-election back home.

[READ: Immigration Reform Passes Senate, Now in Boehner's Hands]

"As for my politics. I am doing great among Hispanics in South Carolina. The bad news is that there are not very many who vote in a Republican primary," Graham joked. "But I have never been more proud to be a senator as I have been today. This is a day I have been hoping and waiting for."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential 2016 presidential contender, has had to cautiously walk the tightrope between his support for the bipartisan bill and close relationship with the tea party. Many who once saw Rubio as a solid conservative choice have accused him of abandoning his conservative principles.

For Republicans who voted against the bill like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the bill represented a deja vu of a 1986 reform effort that sought to secure the border, but failed.

"The bill won't insure that a future Congress isn't back here dealing with the very same problem," Grassley said. "We need a bill that ensures results."

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