WASHINGTON - In Spanish and English, the Senate pushed contentious immigration legislation over early procedural hurdles with deceptive ease on Tuesday as President Barack Obama insisted the "moment is now" to give 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally a chance at citizenship.
Despite the lopsided votes, Republicans served notice they will seek to toughen the bill's border security provisions and impose tougher terms on those seeking to gain legal status. "This bill has serious flaws," said their party leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of several who noted pointedly that the 60-vote majority they will demand for passage is hardly assured.
Even before the first proposed changes were considered, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, outlined the complicated state of play for a measure that he helped draft as a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" and now seeks to alter. With changes to tighten control of the U.S.-Mexican border, he said, about half of the Senate's 46 Republicans are prepared to vote to create the pathway to citizenship that is backed by most or all of the 54 lawmakers aligned with the Democratic majority. At the White House, Obama said repeatedly the current immigration system is broken, for the foreign-born who live in the United State legally and illegally alike.
Referring to the 11 million currently in the country unlawfully, he said, "Yes, they broke the rules; they didn't wait their turn. They shouldn't be let off easy. They shouldn't be allowed to game the system. But at the same time, the vast majority of these individuals aren't looking for any trouble. They're just looking to provide for their families, contribute to their communities. "
At its core, the bill sets out a 13-year journey to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally through the end of 2011 or who overstayed their visas. That journey would include paying fines and back taxes and other measures. The bill also requires a tighter border to prevent future illegal immigration.