Omnibus immigration reform moves from committee to the full Senate with bipartisan support. The bill includes increased skilled-worker visas, provisional residency for current illegal immigrants, but no rights for gay spouses.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
The most far-reaching U.S. immigration legislation in about two decades moved forward on a solid bipartisan vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee after supporters avoided a controversy over the rights of gay spouses.
The 13-5 vote cleared the way for a full Senate showdown on one of President Barack Obama's top domestic priorities — and gives the opposition Republican Party a chance to recast itself as more appealing to minorities.
"Yes, we can! Si, se puede" immigration activists shouted after the vote, reprising Obama's campaign cry in his historic run for the White House in 2008.
In addition to creating a pathway to citizenship for 11.5 million immigrants living illegally in the country, the legislation creates a new program for low-skilled foreign labor and would permit highly skilled workers into the country at far higher levels. At the same time, it requires the government to take costly new steps to guard against future illegal immigration.
In a statement, Obama said the legislation is "largely consistent with the principles of common-sense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system."
Republicans have embraced the idea of immigration reform after a large majority of Hispanic voters supporters Obama in last year's election, leading to concerns that the party was out of touch with a younger, more diverse country.
There was suspense before Tuesday's vote when Sen. Patrick Leahy, the panel's chairman, sparked a debate over his proposal to give same-sex and heterosexual spouses equal rights under immigration law.
But the the bill's supporters, repeating private appeals from the White House, warned that forcing a vote on that issue would lead to the collapse of conservative Republican support and the bill's demise.
In the hours leading to a final vote, the panel also agreed to a last-minute compromise covering an increase in the visa program for high-tech workers. The number of highly skilled workers admitted would rise from 65,000 annually to 110,000, with the possibility of a further increase to 180,000, depending in part on unemployment levels.