BRENTWOOD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Senate approved a historic piece of immigration legislation, on Thursday, taking a step towards citizenship for millions in the U.S. illegally.
The vote on final passage of the White House-backed bill came, after a series of test votes earlier this week demonstrated supporters command a bipartisan majority well over the 60 votes needed to secure passage and send the bill to the House.
“We’re on the edge of passing one of the most significant pieces of legislation that this body has passed in a very long time,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “The vast majority of members in this body realize that the immigration system is broken and needs fixing.”
On Thursday, immigrants and immigration advocates rallied in Brentwood, Long Island in a show of support for comprehensive immigration reform, urging the Senate to pass it and the House to quickly follow suit.
Maryann Slutsky of Long Island Wins helped organize the rally.
“History is happening now. Today’s Senate vote is an important step in moving millions of immigrants into a responsible system,” she told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs.
It’s estimated some 100,000 undocumented immigrants live on Long Island, Xirinachs reported.
Some have labeled Long Island ground zero of the immigration debate, following a series of violent attacks on day laborers over recent years, Xirinachs reported. That includes the stabbing death of an Ecuadorian immigrant in Patchogue.
“Long Island knows and they’re fed up with the hatred and the attacks and the anti-immigrant legislation that was happening, particularly a couple of years ago,” Slutsky said. “Long Island wants to move forward. History is happening now.”
Supporters posted 67 votes or more on each of three procedural tests Wednesday. More than a dozen Republicans sided with Democrats on each, ensuring bipartisan support that the bill’s backers hope will change minds in the House.
The outlook there is uncertain. Many in the GOP-controlled House oppose the pathway to citizenship at the center of the Senate bill. And many prefer a piecemeal approach rather than a sweeping bill like the one the Senate is producing.
Speaker John Boehner has indicated that the legislation does not stand a chance in the GOP-controlled House.
“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” Rep. Boehner said.
The House Judiciary Committee is in the midst of a piece-by-piece effort, signing off Wednesday on legislation to establish a system requiring all employers within two years to check their workers’ legal status.
The Judiciary Committee was turning its attention Thursday to a bill on high-skilled workers. Last week it approved two more measures, one on agriculture workers and a second to make illegal presence in the country a federal crime, instead of a civil offense as it is now.
At its core, the legislation includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration, while at the same time it offers a chance at citizenship to the 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.
It provides for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, requires the completion of 700 miles of fencing and requires an array of high-tech devices to be deployed to secure the border with Mexico.
Businesses would be required to check on the legal status of prospective employees. Other provisions would expand the number of visas for highly skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. A separate program would be established for lower-skilled workers, and farm workers would be admitted under a temporary program.
The basic legislation was drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans who met privately for months to produce a rare bipartisan compromise in a polarized Senate. They fended off unwanted changes in the Senate Judiciary Committee and then were involved in negotiations with Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee on a package of tougher border security provisions that swelled support among Republicans.
The legislation offers hope to families like the Alfaros, who told CBS 2’s Danielle Nottingham that the government has recently threatened to send their father back to Honduras.
“Many people are being separated from their kids, many kids are being orphaned, even though their parents are alive,” Gelin Alfaro said.
Outnumbered critics insist the bill falls short of the promises made for it.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called it “the mother of all amnesties.”
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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)