The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Tuesday evening, 13 to 5,  to advance the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act and send the measure onto the full Senate for debate.  Three Republicans joined 10 Democrats to approve the measure.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said  the legislation, which would be the biggest change to U.S. immigration law in a generation, “will make our country safer and help 11 million undocumented immigrants get right with the law.”  Reid also said he will bring the bill to the chamber’s floor in June.

After five days of debate over dozens of amendments, the legislation emerged with its core provisions largely intact.   The legislation seeks to balance a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, sought by Democrats, with sufficient border-security improvements to satisfy Republicans.  The bill’s authors have said they will remain open to changes on the Senate floor.

Four of the so-called “gang of eight” that crafted the 850-page comprehensive bill banded together to fight off the most serious challenges to the core provisions of the bill, including a last-minute attempt by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to provide immigrants in same-sex marriages with U.S. citizens equal benefits and protections as heterosexual couples.  During debate, Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) said they wished to support the Leahy amendment but could not because Republican members, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), said they would drop support of the bill if the provision was added to the legislation.  Leahy ultimately withdrew the amendment.

The amendment from Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to make a path to citizenship contingent on securing the U.S. border was defeated, although the committee did authorize $4.5 billion over the next five years for tighter border security. Republicans in both chambers say they will reject border security enhancements they deem insufficient and a measure creating a temporary worker program they consider too limited for U.S. companies that need more lower-skilled workers.  Labor unions and other groups said they would redouble their efforts to protect the bill’s path to citizenship.

Several amendments adopted in the committee were intended to make the bill more palatable to moderate Republicans seen as crucial to passage in the full Senate, including two proposals to help prevent foreign citizens from staying in the United States on expired visas.

“I hope that our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action,”  Leahy said.  “We need an immigration system that lives up to American values and helps write the next great chapter in American history by reinvigorating our economy and enriching our committees,” he said.  Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged fellow Republicans on Tuesday not to block the bill from a floor vote.

The Congressional Budget Office will take two weeks to issue an assessment of the fiscal cost of the bill, so Democratic aides said the floor debate could begin around June 10.

In the House, Republicans crafting immigration legislation, including Representative John Carter (R-TX), have criticized the Senate measure.