WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate pushed landmark immigration legislation past final hurdles Wednesday, pointing to near-certain passage soon of a measure that would open the door to U.S. citizenship for millions of people.
The bill sidestepped several procedural obstacles with votes to spare, demonstrating it commands well over the 60 votes needed to pass the 100-member Senate. That could happen early as Thursday, with the next stop in the House, where an uncertain future awaits.
The White House-backed bill would pour billions into security on the border with Mexico and offer a path to citizenship to some 11 million immigrants now in the United States illegally. President Barack Obama would like to be able to point to immigration overhaul as the major accomplishment of the first year of his second term.
"A permanent, common-sense solution to our dysfunctional system is really in sight," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. "It is my hope that our colleagues in the House will follow the Senate's lead and work to pass bipartisan reform and do it now."
Opponents were not convinced.
"It continues to promote false promises that the border would be truly secure," said Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican.
Prospects were anything but clear in the Republican-controlled House, where many conservatives oppose citizenship or even legalization for people in this country illegally. The House Republicna leader, Speaker John Boehner, said he has no plans to hold a vote on the legislation coming from the Senate.
"We are not going to take up the Senate bill," Boehner told Republicans in a morning meeting.
Some conservative Republicans are taking a tough stand on the issue in the hopes of warding challenges from even more conservative members of their party in primary elections next year.k
The House Judiciary Committee planned to vote Wednesday on legislation requiring employers to verify their workers' legal status. That would be the third in a series of single-issue immigration bills the committee has acted on as it takes a piecemeal approach to overhauling the immigration system, in contrast with the Senate's comprehensive bill.
In the Senate, after the addition of $38 billion in provisions strengthening border security, doubling the size of the border patrol, and completing hundreds of miles of fencing, the legislation looked likely to command support from more than a dozen Republicans on final passage.
That's more than enough to ensure the 60-vote margin needed for passage, as all 52 Democrats and the two independents who usually vote with them look likely to stick together.
Supporters rounded up 67 or more "yes" votes on each of three tallies Wednesday. One vote overcame a Republican budget objection, the second was to approve changes to the bill including billions in new border security spending, and the third allowed moving forward with the amended version of the bill.
Supporters dodged a potential obstacle when the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples. That would allow gay married Americans to sponsor their spouses for U.S. residency in the way straight married Americans can.
Gay rights supporters had been pushing for the immigration bill to include such a provision, but Republicans had warned it would sink the immigration bill.
The Supreme Court's ruling made it unnecessary, which was the outcome supporters were hoping for.