Historic immigration bill clears Senate, signaling likely passage later this week.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Historic immigration
legislation cleared a key Senate hurdle
with votes to spare on Monday, pointing
the way to near-certain passage within
days for stepped up security along the
border with Mexico and a chance at
citizenship for millions living in the
country illegally.
The vote was 67-27, seven more than the
60 needed, with 15 Republicans voting to
advance legislation at the top of President
Barack Obama's second-term domestic
agenda.
The vote came as Obama campaigned from
the White House for the bill, saying, "now
is the time" to overhaul an immigration
system that even critics of the legislation
agree needs reform.
Last-minute frustration was evident
among opponents. In an unusual slap at
members of his own party as well as
Democrats, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of
Texas said it appeared that lawmakers on
both sides of the political aisle "very
much want a fig leaf" on border security
to justify a vote for immigration.
Senate passage on Thursday or Friday
would send the issue to the House, where
conservative Republicans in the majority
oppose citizenship for anyone living in
the country illegally.
Some GOP lawmakers have appealed to
Speaker John Boehner not to permit any
immigration legislation to come to a vote
for fear that whatever its contents, it
would open the door to an unpalatable
compromise with the Senate. At the same
time, the House Judiciary Committee is in
the midst of approving a handful of
measures related to immigration, action
that ordinarily is a prelude to votes in
the full House.
"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."
As for the overall economy, he said, "I
think every business leader here feels
confident that they'll be in a stronger
position to continue to innovate, to
continue to invest, to continue to create
jobs and ensure that this continues to be
the land of opportunity for generations to
come."
Opponents saw it otherwise. "It will
encourage more illegal immigration and
must be stopped," Cruz exhorted
supporters via email, urging them to
contact their own senators with a plea to
defeat the measure.
Leaving little to chance, the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce announced it was launching
a new seven-figure ad buy Monday in
support of the bill. "Call Congress. End
de facto amnesty. Create jobs and
economic growth by supporting
conservative immigration reforms," the ad
said.
Senate officials said some changes were
still possible to the bill before it leaves
the Senate - alterations that would swell
the vote total.
At the same time, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-
Miss., who voted to advance the measure
during the day, said he may yet end up
opposing it unless he wins a pair of
changes he is seeking.
Senate Democrats were unified on the
vote.
Republicans were anything on a bill that
some party leaders say offers the GOP a
chance to show a more welcoming face to
Hispanic voters, yet tea party-aligned
lawmakers assail as amnesty for those who
have violated the law.
Among potential 2016 presidential
contenders, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida
was an enthusiastic supporter of the bill,
while Cruz was an outspoken opponent.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget
Office has estimated the legislation will
reduce the deficit and increase economic
growth in each of the next two decades. It
is also predicting unemployment will rise
slightly through 2020, and that average
wages will move lower over a decade.
At its core, the legislation in the Senate
would create a 13-year pathway to
citizenship for an estimated 11 million
immigrants living illegally in the United
States. It 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.
The measure also would create a new
program for temporary farm laborers to
come into the country, and another for
lower-skilled workers to emigrate
permanently. At the same time, it calls for
an expansion of an existing visa program
for highly-skilled workers, a gesture to
high tech companies that rely heavily on
foreigners.
In addition to border security, the
measure phases in a mandatory program
for employers to verify the legal status of
potential workers, and separate effort to
track the comings and goings of foreigners
at some of the nation's airports.
The legislation was originally drafted by
a bipartisan Gang of 8, four senators from
each party who negotiated a series of
political tradeoffs over several months.
The addition of the tougher border
security provisions came after CBO
informed lawmakers that they could
potentially spend tens of billions of
dollars to sweeten the bill without
fearing higher deficits.
The result was a series of changes
negotiated between the Gang of 8 and
Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North
Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Different, lesser-noticed provisions
helped other lawmakers swing behind the
measure.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen.
Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, likened some of
them to "earmarks," the now-banned
practice of directing federal funds to the
pet projects of individual lawmakers.
He cited a provision creating a $1.5
billion jobs fund for low-income youth
and pair of changes to benefit the seafood
processing industry in Alaska. Sen.
Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement
on Friday trumpeting the benefits of the
first; Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski, a
Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat,
took credit for the two others.
Grassley also raised questions about the
origin of a detailed list of planes, sensors,
cameras and other equipment to be
placed along the southern border.
"Who provided the amendment sponsors
with this list?" asked Grassley, who is a
member of the Judiciary Committee that
approved an earlier version of the bill.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet
Napolitano "did not provide the
committee with any list. Did Sikorsky,
Cessna and Northrup Grumann send up a
wish list to certain members of the
Senate?"