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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate immigration bill passes key test, headed to floor

Ending on an emotional note over same-sex couples, the Senate Judiciary Committee tonight passed a sweeping immigration bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people while spending billions on more border security and other enforcement.

The vote was 13 to 5, with Democrats joined by three Republicans Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch, who secured a last-minute change adding more visas for tech workers. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Even tougher prospects lie in the House, which has yet to produce its own bill.

Florida Repubilcan Sen. Marco Rubio is not on the committee but was a critical member of the Gang of 8 that wrote the bill. Rubio lent support for amendments that were added to provide even tighter enforcement, including an exit visa tracking system. And he played a role in stopping an effort to add same-sex couples to the mix -- the last amendment offered before tonight's vote.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy referred to Rubio when he said: “When I read news stories of a Republican not on this committee threaten that my anti-discrimination amendment would kill the bill, I hoped it was just partisan rhetoric on talk radio but now I understand that even the supportive Republicans on this committee will also walk away from this comprehensive bill if we address this flaw in our immigration system. That is a sad commentary on where the Republican Party is on the fight for equality but also on Republican support for this important bill."

In a statment, Rubio, under fire from some conservatives for his role in the process, applauded the vote and said the bill was improved. “However, the reality is that work still remains to be done." Full statement below. Rubio:

“We have a broken immigration system that threatens America’s sovereignty, security and economy. While there is strong disagreement on how to fix this, there is broad consensus that we can no longer leave the status quo of de facto amnesty in place.

“I appreciate the work of the Senate Judiciary Committee in taking the bill my colleagues and I introduced in April as a starting point for debate and making improvements to it over the past few weeks. Through an extensive, open and transparent process, they have made real improvements to the bill.

“The amended bill that heads to the Senate floor would make significant progress to secure our borders, make E-Verify mandatory for the first time in American history, effectively crack down on immigrants who overstay visas, and modernize the legal immigration system to meet America’s 21st century economic needs for both highly skilled talent and guest workers to fill labor shortages.

“However, the reality is that work still remains to be done. Immigration reform will not become law unless we can earn the confidence of the American people that we are solving our immigration problems once and for all. As evidenced by the statements of many of my colleagues who voted against the bill in committee today, the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum are prepared to give millions of people living here today illegally the opportunity to earn legal status and, potentially, permanent residence and citizenship - but only if they pay fines, pass background checks, don’t receive federal benefits and wait in line behind everybody who followed the rules. And only if we secure the border and take steps that ensure that we will never again have another wave of illegal immigration

“We have a historic opportunity to end today’s de facto amnesty and modernize our immigration system to meet our 21st century needs. I remain optimistic that the Senate, by improving the bill through an open and deliberative floor debate, will seize this opportunity.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 9:30pm]

    

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