WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday that would lead to a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws for the first time since 1986. It would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents while pumping up security along the Mexican border.
Most congressional conservatives, however, remain staunchly opposed to the measure, and have declared it dead on arrival in the House.
In a White House statement, President Obama hailed the Senate vote as “a critical step” toward fixing what he called a broken immigration system. He labeled the measure that now goes to the Republican-controlled House a compromise, adding that “we just need Congress to finish the job.”
Obama warned in his statement that opponents of immigration reform will try even harder to derail it. Noting the broad support for the Senate bill from the business community, organized labor and others, he urged people to contact their House representatives and “tell them to do the right thing.“
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called the vote on the measure “largely symbolic” and predicted the bill would ultimately be relegated to the “ash heap of history.”
If enacted, the measure would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, while raising the cap on visas for high-skilled workers and establishing a new visa program for low-skilled workers on America’s farms.
A recently added border security amendment — introduced by GOP Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee — would require 20,000 more border agents, complete 700 miles of fence along the boundary with Mexico, and deploy $3.2 billion in technology upgrades similar to equipment used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The amendment also strengthens eligibility verification and border entry-exit controls.
House Speaker John Boehner repeated his pledge to block a vote in the House on any immigration measure that doesn’t have the support of a majority of House Republicans.
The speaker also refused to take a position on whether or not there should be some kind of path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally.