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US Senate approves immigration reform bill

The US Senate has passed a bill that would enable up to 11 million undocumented people in the United States to get citizenship. But the bill is unlikely to get approval in the conservative House of Representatives.

President Barack Obama was quick to welcome the 68-32 vote to approve the landmark legislation. It includes reform of legal immigration and a major investment of $46 billion (33 billion euros) into border security.

Fourteen Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic side in what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deemed a historic vote.

It requires immigrants to pass background checks, pay fees, fines and back taxes, learn English, gain employment, and, as Reid said, "stay out of trouble."

Other provisions include a check on the legal status of job applicants already living in the United States. Businesses would also need to check on the legal status of prospective employees. This aspect would be phased in over four years.

At the same time, the bill offers a 13-year path to citizenship for as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.

A bigger fence

Undocumented migrants could gain legal status during the implementation of a strengthened border security plan, but they would not be granted permanent resident green cards or citizenship during this period.

Brokered last week, the security deal requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the US-Mexican border.

Other provisions would expand the number of visas available for the highly skilled workers the technology industry relies upon. A separate program would be established for lower-skilled employees, and farm workers would be admitted under a temporary program.

Republican opposition

The reforms were intended to elevate the importance of education, job skills and relative youth for prospective immigrants, rather than family ties.

In the Senate, at least, the developments marked an end to years of gridlock on immigration. Conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, however, have already indicated their opposition.

Mexico welcomed passage of the bill, with the Foreign Ministry announcing in a statement that the reforms had the potential to improve the lives of millions of Mexicans living in the United States.

rg/mkg (AP, AFP)