Senate-Passed Immigration Bill Faces Tough Road In The House

The Senate passed a sweeping immigration overhaul bill Thursday with bipartisan support. The legislation, passed by a vote of 68 to 32, would put millions in the country illegally on a path to citizenship and vastly expand border security.

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It was a rare example of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill yesterday as the Democratic-led Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill. The legislation, approved by a vote of 68 to 32, would rewrite immigration rules, beef up border security and put millions who are in the country illegally on a path to citizenship. But Republicans still have significant concerns about the bill, giving it an uncertain future as it moves to the GOP-led House. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It's become increasingly rare for Senate Democrats and Republicans to work together on controversial legislation and then pass it with substantial votes from both parties. But with some Republicans intent on improving their image with Latino voters and Democrats vying for more party faithful, the immigration bill became a common cause.

Fourteen Republicans joined every Senate Democrat and two independents in passing the bill. Number two Democrat Dick Durbin is a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators that wrote the legislation.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: We reaffirmed today what the Senate can be. When we stand together on a bipartisan basis, we can tackle the toughest issues in America. So before the American people give up on Congress, look at what we achieved today.

WELNA: Another gang member, Arizona Republican John McCain, marveled at the support the bill ended up getting.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: The day we announced this legislation, we were a long, long way from 68 votes.

WELNA: Most of the Republican votes may not have been there had the Senate not adopted an amendment this week vastly expanding security measures along the Mexican border, which had been a key GOP demand. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham is another in the Gang of Eight.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: We have practically militarized the border: 40,000 border patrol agents, one every thousand feet, $4 billion of technology backing them up, 700 miles of fence completed.

WELNA: And with the bill completed in the Senate, its next stop is the House of Representatives. Gang of Eight leader and New York Democrat Charles Schumer says the House should simply take up the Senate bill and pass it.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: The strong bipartisan vote we took is going to send a message across the country. It's going to send a message to the other end of the capitol, as well. The bill has generated a level of support that we believe it will be impossible for the House to ignore.

WELNA: But House Speaker John Boehner is ignoring that advice. Here's what he had to say yesterday shortly before the Senate passed its immigration bill.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: The house is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes.

WELNA: House Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma - who's a close ally of Boehner's - declared the Senate bill dead on arrival in the House.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: Anybody that thinks that's going to be the final shape I think just doesn't understand what the political reality is. We can argue over the merit, but politically, that bill, as is, is not gonna pass the House.

WELNA: President Obama issued a statement after the Senate vote warning the bill's backers to keep a watchful eye. He said now is when opponents will try their hardest to pull the bill apart. Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, who led opposition to the bill in the Senate, announced he'll be holding a series of town hall meetings starting Monday to point out what he sees as a major flaw in the bill: the fact that those here illegally can obtain legal status before security measures are in place.

SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: We need a bill that ensures results. We need a bill that puts security before legalization, not the other way around.

WELNA: It's not clear what kind of immigration bill the House might take up, much less whether it could be reconciled with the Senate's. Boehner says he won't consider such a final bill unless it's backed by a majority of his fellow Republicans. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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