Senate begins debate on immigration bill

Washington –- A wide-ranging and ambitious immigration bill that would provide 11 million undocumented people with legal status easily overcame its first hurdle Tuesday.

The Senate voted 82-15 to begin debate on the bill. Connecticut’s two senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, were in the majority that voted to move the bill forward.

Tuesday’s overwhelming, bipartisan vote belies the problems the bill faces, both in escaping major revisions on the Senate floor and rejection by the GOP-led House.

Bill opponents, who are mostly Republicans, say the bill would not do enough to beef up border security nor would it pay for itself.

Nevertheless, previous attempts to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy never got  this far. The last time a comprehensive immigration bill was considered, in 2007, the legislation failed to clear a Senate filibuster.

Bill proponents said the time is ripe to fix a longstanding problem.

“There are 11 million reasons to pass common-sense immigration reform that mends our broken system — 11 million stories of heartbreak and suffering that should motivate Congress to act,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, said.

The bill would provide legal status, and a path to eventual citizenship, to the nation’s undocumented immigrants. To qualify, immigrants would have to pass a criminal background check, learn English, pay back taxes and at least $2,000 in fees.

The bill would also spend $6.5 billion to secure the nation’s  border with Mexico, require all U.S. businesses to check the immigration status of new hires and issue more high-tech and lower-skilled workers visas.

It is the work of four Democratic and four Republican senators, the so-called Gang of Eight.

But the fragile compromise now faces attempts to change it on the Senate floor.

“I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good so I’m going to support  the compromise that got worked out and try to defend it from both amendments on the left and right that might unravel the deal,” Murphy said.

Blumenthal said, “We have to navigate some very difficult waters on both sides of the aisle.”

If it wins approval in the Senate, the bill will then have to combat stiff opposition in the House.

“This bill will crash and burn in the House,” predicted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a strong opponent of the immigration bill.

Yet Blumenthal argued that the bill has a better than even chance of clearing Congress and making it to President Obama’s desk by the end of the year.

“I’m increasingly hopeful that we will have such momentum with a favorable vote in the Senate that the House simply is compelled by the force of our numbers, but also history, and it will do the right thing,” Blumenthal said.