By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY
After three long weeks of hearings and debates, spectators burst out into screams and applause Tuesday night after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration bill that would be the biggest overhaul to the nation's immigration laws in a generation.
The bill was produced by a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight. With four of those members on the committee, the bill survived more than 200 proposed amendments over five lengthy hearings.
Left intact was the core of the bill, which will allow the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, add significant investments in border security and fundamentally alter the legal immigration system of the future.
The committee approved the bill 13-5, meaning the bill is on track to be debated on the full Senate floor beginning the first week of June.
Some Republicans warned that the amendment process had done little to assuage their fears that they were facing a repeat of 1986, when Congress last passed a sweeping immigration bill that allowed up to 3 million people to gain citizenship, but did not fulfill its promises of fully securing the nation's borders.
"Today, we're right back at the same place talking about the same problems and proposing the same solutions," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the ranking member of the committee.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said it was not "the bill I would've written," but he called it the best opportunity for immigration reform he's seen in years.
"We've demonstrated to the United States Senate that we can all work together, Republicans and Democrats," Leahy said. "Now let's go out of this room, and work together with the other members of the Senate."