The Senate yesterday easily approved an immigration bill that allows 10 million illegal aliens to become citizens, doubles the flow of legal immigration each year and will cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $54 billion over the next 10 years.
The leaders of both parties hailed the 62-36 passage as a historic success.
Majority Leader Bill Frist said the vote represented the “very best” of the Senate.
“This is a success for the American people,” the Tennessee Republican said. “It is a success for people who hope to participate someday in that American dream.”
Four Democrats — Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — joined 32 of the chamber’s 55 Republicans, including several members of the GOP leadership, to vote against the bill. Three of the four Democrats who opposed the bill face voters in November.
Opponents said that the Senate is ignoring clear public will and that the bill would have disastrous consequences for decades to come.
“We will never solve the problem of illegal immigration by rewarding those who break our laws,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican. “We must stop illegal immigration by securing the border and creating a temporary-worker program that does not reward illegal behavior with a clear path to citizenship and voting rights.”
In the moments before the vote, Mr. Frist and about a dozen senators, from both parties, tearfully congratulated one another for all their hard work in producing the legislation. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and the leading proponent of the bill, called it “the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history.”
After the vote, more than a dozen giddy lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gathered before television cameras to again commend one another.
“I am so proud of the Senate,” Minority Leader Harry Reid said as those around him smiled broadly. “This is the way we should legislate — on a bipartisan basis.”
As he spoke, a television screen behind him showed a live picture of the Senate floor, where fellow Democrats were at that moment trying to mount a filibuster against President Bush’s latest judicial nominee.
In the end, Democrats failed and a final vote was set for today on the nomination of White House lawyer Brett M. Kavanaugh, named to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. After speaking to reporters, Mr. Reid returned to the Senate floor and cast his vote in favor of the filibuster.
Those senators who voted against the immigration bill said it should have left out the “amnesty” provisions and instead focus solely on securing the border and enforcing the immigration laws that have been on the books for decades.
Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said the bill “puts the cart before the horse” because it gives citizenship rights to illegals, grants full-blown amnesty to employers and opens the borders to millions of new immigrants each year.
“The horse here, that I’ve been hearing from my constituents, is we need a border-security bill first,” said Mr. Santorum, who spends much of his time campaigning for re-election this fall. “And we need a program that makes sure that our country’s borders are secure and that they are not a threat either to our national security or economic security.”