US immigration bill clears key senate hurdle

Washington, June 12 (IANS) As a major immigration bill that would give over 11 million people, including some 260,000 Indians, living illegally in America a path to citizenship, it received a full endorsement from President Barack Obama.

"If you're serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it," he said Tuesday at the White House, flanked by immigration reform supporters, hours before a strong Senate majority voted to open debate on it.

"If you're not serious about it, if you think that a broken system is the best America can do, then I guess it might make sense to try to block it," he said referring to the bill drafted by a bipartisan "gang of eight", four Democrats and four Republicans.

"But if you're actually serious and sincere about fixing a broken immigration system, this is the vehicle to do it," he said flanked among others by young undocumented students and the US Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Tom Donohue.

"This bill isn't perfect, it's a compromise," Obama said. "And going forward, nobody is going to get everything they want. Not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But this is a bill that's largely consistent with the principles that I and the people on this stage have laid out for common-sense reform."

The 82-15 vote, with most Republicans joining the chamber's Democratic majority in support, to begin the debate indicated that the bill would pass the Senate despite fierce opposition from conservatives.

However, Republican Ted Cruz, a key opponent of the bill said Tuesday the Republican-controlled House would defeat it in its current form due to the pathway to citizenship.

Addressing concerns of the measure's opponents, Obama emphasised it would increase spending on border security and require undocumented immigrants to pursue what could be a 13-year path to eventual citizenship.

"You have to pass background checks, you have to learn English, you have to pay taxes and a penalty and then you have to go to the back of the line behind everybody who has done things the right way and have tried to come here legally," Obama said.

Some congressional conservatives call opposing the "gang of eight" plan a matter of principle and say they won't bend.

Many consider any measure offering a path to citizenship tantamount to amnesty for those who entered the country illegally.

A bipartisan group has been working on a separate immigration plan in the House, but the effort suffered a setback last week when a key member dropped out of the negotiations.

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