WASHINGTON — After eight hours of debate, the bipartisan Senate immigration bill emerged mostly intact Thursday, despite Republican-led efforts to make substantial alterations in the first of what is certain to be many long committee meetings to work through the 844-page proposal.
Senators on the Judiciary Committee spent most of the day on a question that has baffled immigration reformers: how to determine when the border with Mexico would be declared secure. The answer is crucial, because only then would the legalization process start for the estimated 11 million people in this country illegally.
Under the bill, the border was to be considered secure after the Department of Homeland Security had a plan that could halt 90 percent of the illegal crossings at three hot spots.
Republicans argued that without an even tougher standard, there would be no guarantee another wave of illegal immigration could be prevented. Democrats countered that many of the GOP proposals were too costly or set unrealistic goals, making it unlikely the legalization process could ever begin.
The committee, which is controlled by Democrats, unanimously agreed to a modest but significant change: requiring a plan to stop 90 percent of illegal crossings along the entire southern border.
By day's end, senators had dispatched with 32 of 300 proposed amendments.
An overflow crowd, some wearing Statue of Liberty hats, waited in line for a seat in the audience. Many support immigration overhaul, including people brought to the United States as minors who are now adults.
"My parents are hard-working people who deserve a chance to come forward and stop fearing that one day they will be caught," said Cynthia Domenzain, 20, of Scottsdale, Ariz., who came to this country as a child. "We want a better tomorrow."