Millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. have a chance at citizenship after sweeping immigration reform was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The legislation passed with a vote of 13 to 5, with three Republicans joining 10 Democrats in supporting it. Witnesses to the proceedings, immigration activists, shouted, “Yes we can! Si, se puede.”
While paving the way to citizenship for 11.5 million illegal immigrants, the bill also puts in place rigid new steps to stop future illegal immigration.
A top priority for President Obama, he called this measure "largely consistent with the principles of common-sense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system."
“None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I,” Obama said, “but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line.”
The bill will move to the full Senate for a vote. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged Republicans Tuesday not to block the bill from the Senate floor.
Republican support for the bill wavered when Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., proposed giving same-sex and heterosexual spouses equal rights under the immigration law.
"I don't want to be the senator who asks people to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country," Leahy told the committee.
The discussion was quashed, mostly by Senate Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would have voted against the legislation if Leahy had forced the provision further. Democrat Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Calif., and Al Franken, Minn., also raised concerns.
"I believe in my heart of hearts that what you're doing is the right and just thing," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, told Leahy. "But I believe this is the wrong moment, that this is the wrong bill."
Before the final vote, the panel added an increase in the visa program for high-tech workers to the bill, which led to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, joining supporters.
The compromise increases admission of high-skilled immigrant workers from 65,000 to 110,000 annually, with the possibility of increasing that number to 180,000 depending upon the level of unemployment.
It should take two weeks for the Congressional Budget Office to assess the fiscal cost of the bill. According to Democratic aides, the bill could reach the floor around June 10.