The U.S. Senate passed a sweeping reform of the country’s immigration laws Thursday evening. (Photo by Vcelloho.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The U.S. Senate passed its bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill Thursday evening with a 68-32 vote and the help of both Democrats and 14 Republicans. However, the legislation’s toughest battle remains in the Republican-led U.S. House.

A coalition of eight Democrats and Republicans called the Gang of Eight, which included Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., drafted the Senate bill.

S. 744 provides a 13-year path to citizenship for  millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, as well as some tough border security measures at the request of the conservative members of the Senate.

The New York Times reported:

The legislation — drafted largely behind closed doors by the bipartisan group — brought together an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business groups and labor unions, farmworkers and growers, and Latino, gay rights, and immigration advocates. Along the way, the legislation was shaped and tweaked by a series of backroom deals and negotiations that, in many ways, seemed to mirror its inception.

Even late Wednesday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and an author of the bill, found himself on the phone with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, trying to shore up support. In a 30-minute phone call, according to an aide, Mr. Schumer urged Mr. Christie to help persuade Senator Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Republican of New Jersery — newly appointed by Mr. Christie — to vote for the bill. (Mr. Chiesa was one of 14 Republicans who voted “yes” on Thursday afternoon to end debate).

The first big deal, however, came early on, at the end of March, when the nation’s top labor and business groups reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Disagreements between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, had helped doom a 2007 attempt at a similar overhaul, but the two groups came together to create a program that will expand and shrink based on economic indicators — like the unemployment and job openings figures — and offer a maximum of 200,000 guest visas annually.

While conservatives won a fight over border security during negotiations, the more liberal members of the Senate lost an effort to extend immigration rights to same-sex couples. However, a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday extended a slew of federal rights to same-sex couples on Wednesday anyway.

Now all eyes are on the U.S. House, and Republican leadership has already committed not to take up the Senate bill.

USA Today reports:

“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We’re going to do our own bill through regular order, and it’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “And for any legislation, including a (final bill), to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of the majority of our members.”

Boehner has faced criticism in his own party for passing major legislation – including the bill at the start of the year to avert the “fiscal cliff” – by relying on the support of House Democrats to overcome the opposition of conservative Republicans. He vowed Thursday that he would not do so on immigration.

House Republicans will hold a special closed-door meeting July 10 to discuss the way forward on immigration, but leading lawmakers have made clear that there is broad opposition to the Senate’s comprehensive approach and little GOP interest in a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants until the U.S.-Mexican border is secured.

The biggest problem is with the large number of right-wing Republicans in the House who are vehemently opposed to any bill that provides a path to citizenship.

A small bipartisan coalition in the House has been trying to work out a deal for a long time now, but every time a deal has come together, it has quickly fallen apart.

In the meantime, Republicans have been moving through tougher stand-alone bills, as the immigration working group tries to finalize a deal. In fact, a judiciary panel in the House recently passed a bill that would make it a federal crime to be undocumented and a comprehensive immigration reform bill has yet to be drafted.

Some Republicans have also said they don’t even want to consider a comprehensive bill.

According to USA Today:

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said House Republicans are wary of any legislation the size and scope of the Senate bill because it is reminiscent to GOP lawmakers of President Obama’s health care law. There is also a generally held view among Republicans that bills that size are politically perilous because the public doesn’t trust them.

“The House has no capacity to move that (Senate) bill in its entirety. It just won’t happen. It is a pipedream to think that that bill is going to go to the floor and be voted on,” he said.

President Obama said in a statement that its now up to advocates to put pressure on the House:

Today, the Senate did its job.  It’s now up to the House to do the same.

As this process moves forward, I urge everyone who cares about this issue to keep a watchful eye.  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.  If you’re among the clear majority of Americans who support reform – from CEOs to labor leaders, law enforcement to clergy – reach out to your Member of Congress.  Tell them to do the right thing.  Tell them to pass commonsense reform so that our businesses and workers are all playing by the same rules and everyone who’s in this country is paying their fair share in taxes.

We have a unique opportunity to fix our broken system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  We just need Congress to finish the job.

Two House members, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fl., have committed to making media rounds to show that there is indeed support for comprehensive and bipartisan immigration reform in the U.S. House.