DENVER (CBS4)– The Senate passed a measure that would put illegal immigrants in Colorado and in the U.S. on the path to citizenship. Sen. Michael Bennet played a key role in developing that legislation.
It also calls for strengthening security along the U.S. border with Mexico.
The bipartisan vote was 68-32 on a measure that sits atop President Barack Obama’s second-term domestic agenda. Even so, the bill’s prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives generally oppose citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully.
Bennet was one of the so-called Gang of Eight comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans who met privately for months to produce the sweeping legislation.
After three weeks of debate, there was no doubt about the outcome. Fourteen Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill.
“We had a lot of setbacks along the way but nobody gave up. I give a lot of credit to my Democrat colleagues and even more credit in a way to my Republican colleagues because they had to step further outside of Washington politics frame to not only come to the table but stay at the table,” said Bennet.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner from Colorado said the measure doesn’t go far enough to secure the borders.
“We are a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws and I don’t think the Senate bill does enough to make sure we remain a nation of laws one that enforces our borders and makes sure that we start with border security,” said Gardner.
Gardner said the bill won’t even make it to the House floor but Bennet isn’t giving up.
“Just saying ‘No’ is not an answer,” said Bennet.
In a written statement, Obama coupled praise for the Senate’s action with a plea for resolve by supporters as the House works on the issue. “Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen,” said the president, who was traveling in Africa.
The measure requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Those living in the country illegally could gain legal status while the border security plan was being implemented, but would not be granted permanent resident green cards or citizenship.
A plan requiring businesses to check on the legal status of prospective employees would be phased in over four years.
Other provisions would expand the number of visas available 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. In addition, the system of legal immigration that has been in effect for decades would be changed, making family ties less of a factor and elevating the importance of education, job skills and relative youth.