The U.S. Senate passed the biggest overhaul to the nation's immigration laws in a generation Thursday, but its fate is far less certain in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
After two decades of failed attempts, 14 Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to pass the bill on a 68-32 vote. The bill allows the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, authorizes $38 billion to secure the southwest border and revamps the legal immigration system to bring in more foreigners to perform high-tech and lower-skilled jobs.
Vice President Biden made a rare appearance in the Senate to preside over the vote as senators voted from their desks -- a symbolic gesture made during key votes. When Biden read the vote tally, immigration advocates in the gallery broke into cheers.
President Obama praised the Senate for passing the hard-fought compromise, where "nobody got everything that they wanted," and he urged the House to act on the bill.
"Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop common-sense reform from becoming a reality," Obama said in a statement. "We cannot let that happen."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated Thursday that he opposes the bill and will not allow a vote on any immigration bill that does not have the support of a majority of his 234 Republican members.
Some Republicans warned their party that failure to approve an immigration overhaul could doom the GOP's national election efforts.
"If we can't grow our numbers among particularly Hispanics, it's pretty hard to win the White House in 2016," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. Republicans lost Hispanic voters nearly 3-to-1 in the 2012 elections.
House Republicans will hold a closed-door meeting July 10 to discuss the way forward, but leading lawmakers have made clear that there is broad opposition to the Senate's comprehensive approach.
"My view is: Break this down. Break it down into smaller components," said Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., a member of the GOP leadership.
Some Senate Republicans were persuaded to sign on to the bill by the addition of a "border surge" plan crafted by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. The amendment would add 20,000 agents to double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, and provide additional drones, helicopters, boats and a long list of surveillance technology to lock down the southern border.
But the border does not have to be proven to be secure before unauthorized immigrants can proceed on their path to citizenship.
"This, to me, continues to be the biggest hurdle to reform," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader.
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