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U.S. Senate passes historic immigration reform bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed passed historic legislation offering the priceless hope of citizenship to millions of immigrants living illegally in America’s shadows, including 267,000 LGBT immigrants.

The bipartisan vote was 68-32 on a measure that sits atop President Barack Obama’s second-term domestic agenda, and the Senate’s action follows on the heels of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which provides an estimated 28,500 same-sex, binational couples with an easier road to citizenship.

J. Scott Applewhite, AP
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (left) and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., two of the authors of the immigration reform bill crafted by the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday prior to the final vote.

But the bill’s prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where party leaders are jockeying for position in advance of expected action next month.

Spectators in galleries that overlook the Senate floor watched expectantly as senators voted one by one from their desks. Some onlookers erupted in chants of “Yes, we can” after Vice President Joe Biden announced the vote result.

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.

This legislation includes many provisions that will particularly benefit LGBT immigrants, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum, providing protections for DREAMers and improving conditions for people held in detention facilities.

The Senate’s bill limits the use of solitary confinement and explicitly prohibits the use of this practice based solely on a detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a written statement, President Barack 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 legislation’s chief provisions includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration — some added in a late compromise that swelled Republican support for the bill — and to check on the legal status of job applicants already living in the United States. At the same time, it offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.

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Under the deal brokered last week by Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee and the bipartisan “Gang of 8” — the group that drafted the measure — the bill 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.

With the details of the Senate bill well-known, House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference the separate legislation the House considers will have majority support among Republicans. He also said he hopes the bill will be bipartisan, and he encouraged a group of four Democrats and three Republicans trying to forge a compromise to continue their efforts.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, also said he favors a bipartisan approach. At the same time, she noted that Democratic principles for immigration include “secure our borders, protect our workers, unite families, a path to legalization and now citizenship for those” without legal status.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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