Immigration bill: US Senate votes for a debate on the controversial legislation

The US Senate has voted overwhelmingly for a debate on a landmark immigration bill, which if signed into law would pave the way to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

"A permanent, common-sense solution to our dysfunctional system is in sight. This bipartisan legislation is the solution our economy needs. It is the solution immigrant families need," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Acknowledging that this bill isn't perfect and "compromise" is necessary and inevitable, the Democrat leader said this measure takes important steps to reform the broken legal immigration system, strengthen border security and hold unscrupulous employers accountable.

"Over the next three weeks Senators will propose many ideas to make this legislation better. But those changes must preserve the heart of the bill, a pathway to earned citizenship that begins by going to the back of the line, paying taxes and fines, learning English and getting right with the law," Reid said.

As the Senate voted 84-15 to move ahead with the discussions, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy moved three amendments to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

It includes an amendment to provide equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law; to allow long-term temporary agricultural workers to be accompanied by a child or spouse while working in the US.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said vote shows there's strong bipartisan support for solving the immigration problem.

Rubio also introduced an amendment to strengthen the requirement that immigrants demonstrate English proficiency before receiving permanent legal status.

Ahead of the voting, President Barack Obama yesterday called on the Congress to pass the immigration reform bill.

"Immigration isn't just part of our national character; it is a driving force in our economy that creates jobs and prosperity for all of our citizens," Obama has said.

"In recent years one in four of America's new small-business owners were immigrants. One in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were started by a first-or second-generation American. Think about that."

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