WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed historic immigration legislation offering the hope of American citizenship to millions, while promising a military-style surge to secure the border.
The vote on Thursday, June 27, was 68-32, far more than the majority needed to send the measure to the House. Prospects there are not nearly as good and many conservatives are opposed.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Granger, voted for the measure.
“I just think it’s time to end the de facto amnesty,” Donnelly said in a conference call with reporters after the vote, alluding to the estimated 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have managed to cobble together lives here.
He emphasized the increased U.S.-Mexico border security measures outlined in the legislation — increased fencing, additional U.S. Border Patrol agents and more. Implementation of the measures would have to be underway before undocumented immigrants would be able to seek provisional legal status, and they’d have to be fully in place before they could apply for formal residency, Donnelly said.
“It is by an order of magnitude the single largest increase to the nation’s border that has ever occurred,” Donnelly said.
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican and Indiana’s other senator, voted against the bill. He alluded to amnesty approved under President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and worries there aren’t sufficient assurances that the increased border security and other measures will be implemented.
“While there are some good measures in this legislation, the bill does not avert the fundamental mistake of the 1986 immigration reform act — granting legal status with only promises, not proven results, of border security,” Coats said in a statement. “In order to obtain the trust of the American people, this legislation needs to ensure real results on securing our borders before beginning the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.”
Coats said he hopes the House, which has yet to take up the matter, comes forward with “alternative legislation that is more credible” than the Senate bill.
Vice President Joe Biden presided, and senators cast their votes from their desks, both steps reserved for momentous votes.
The bill, a priority for President Barack Obama, would amount to the most sweeping changes in decades to the nation’s immigration laws.
Elkhart Truth reporter Tim Vandenack contributed to this story.