US Senate passes landmark immigration bill, but House to draft rival measure

Senate bill offers 11 million undocumented migrants hope, but House to draft rival measure

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 4:56am

Even as the US Senate celebrated the passage of a landmark immigration bill to provide millions of undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens, the leader of the House of Representatives served up a dose of harsh reality, warning that the measure was dead on arrival in the House.

In a rare show of bipartisanship on Thursday, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill by a vote of 68-32, with 14 of the Senate's 46 Republicans joining all 52 Democrats and two independent senators in support of the bill.

But the mood was tempered by House Speaker John Boehner, who emphasised that Republicans would "do our own bill", one that "reflects the will of our majority", many of whom oppose citizenship for immigrants who are in the US illegally.

Any bill in the Republican-controlled House is expected to focus heavily on border security and finding immigrants who have overstayed their visas.

"Immigration reform has to be grounded in real border security," Boehner said. A bill must pass both houses before it makes it to the desk of the US president for final approval.

Republican divisions over immigration were evident throughout the US Capitol. While Boehner was putting the brakes on the Senate bill, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, delivered a passionate speech urging passage of the measure that he helped write.

After recounting his parents' difficult lives in Cuba and their struggles after immigrating to the United States, Rubio said: "For over 200 years now, [immigrants] have come - in search of liberty and freedom, for sure, but often simply looking for jobs to feed their kids and the chance of a better life."

At the end of the Senate debate, a packed gallery of supporters, who have laboured decades for such a moment, witnessed the vote, which came after three weeks of sometimes heated discussion. More than 100 children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the US by their parents hugged each other when the bill passed.

President Barack Obama, praising the bill, said it contained tough border security requirements and "earned citizenship" for about 11 million undocumented residents.

"Today, the Senate did its job. It's now up to the House to do the same," Obama said in a statement.