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Senate Immigration Bill Set For Passage With Majority Support

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate is set to pass broad immigration reform legislation that would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants and allocate billions of dollars to border security, after approving the bill in a test vote on Thursday 68 to 32.

It still must go for a final vote, which should come Thursday afternoon, likely with the same or a similar vote tally.

The bipartisan "gang of eight" bill will likely pass with a strong majority and a number of -- although not most -- Republican senators voting in favor. Fourteen GOP senators joined with Democrats in voting to close debate on the bill and are expected to vote for its final passage: Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).

Two previously undecided Republicans, Chiesa and Heller, announced ahead of the vote that they will support the bill for final passage.

"This bill strengthens border security, E-Verify and better identifies visa overstays through an improved entry/exit system," Chiesa said in a statement. "I will vote for this immigration bill because I believe it is the right thing to do."

If the immigration bill is signed into law as is, which is unlikely to happen because House Republicans have vowed not to touch it, it would dramatically change the immigration system, border security and enforcement. It would give reprieve to many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. without status and streamline the ability for foreign nationals to immigrate to the country, based on a point system on their considered "merit."

After an amendment by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) passed on Wednesday to add considerable resources and requirements on border security, the legislation will also include 20,000 additional patrol agents, 700 miles of border fence and more funding for surveillance technology and drones, all of which must be in place before immigrants can move from provisional status to legal permanent residency. Businesses would be required to check their hires' legal status, in an effort to prevent drawing more undocumented immigrants to the U.S. because they think they can find work. An entry-exit system would be established to track whether foreign nationals leave the country when required by their visas.

Sponsors had hoped for additional amendments to win over more Republicans, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) objected on Wednesday when leadership asked for approval to hold 32 additional amendment votes. In doing so, he effectively blocked 16 amendments from his GOP colleagues from a chance of getting into the bill.

"The majority party has offered an agreement that in our view is insufficient," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "I feel a bit used and abused in this process for 2.5 weeks we’ve been pushing to get votes on our amendments. We’ve had a measly 10 votes on amendments."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who leads the Judiciary Committee that initially approved the bill, took to the floor again Thursday to ask for approval of 32 amendments he said were non-controversial.

Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) objected, and they again were blocked from a vote.

Some GOP senators said they were unable to support the bill without the amendments. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced an amendment to expand requirements on E-Verify, a system that allows employers to check whether a potential hire is allowed to work legally in the country. It wasn't added to the Corker-Hoeven deal because Portman wanted a vote on the amendment on its own -- but he won't get it. Portman voted against the bill in the Thursday morning test vote, and is likely to vote against its final passage as well.

"I can't vote for it without it," Portman said Tuesday of the bill and his E-Verify amendment.

Senators also seem unlikely to win over Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who Hoeven said they were trying to woo earlier this week. The Georgia senator voted against the bill Thursday morning.

Thirty-two Republicans in total voted against the bill, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Cornyn.

The bill will move to the House after passage and is unlikely to receive a vote, but could be combined later with any legislation the lower chamber passes -- probably piecemeal measures -- on immigration reform.

See The Huffington Post's estimated whip count, based on the senators' public statements and their stance on the border amendment, here.

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