WASHINGTON - West Virginia's two senators Thursday voted for an immigration overhaul bill that sets the stage for citizenship for millions of undocumented aliens and increases security on the Mexican border.
The vote was 68-32 with 14 Republicans voting in the affirmative for the legislation backed by President Obama. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, Democrats from West Virginia, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, voted in favor and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted against.
No Democrats voted against the bill which goes to the House.
Senate Bill 744, the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act," creates a 13-year legalization process that guarantees American workers are hired before immigrants, Manchin said.
"This legislation is by no means perfect, but it goes a long way toward modernizing our broken immigration system and strikes a balance between tough but fair reforms," Rockefeller said. "I've long maintained that we needed to find a better way to address the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States, and I'm confident in the approach this bill takes."
Manchin said he supported the bill only after the Senate agreed to an amendment to strengthen border security. He also said the legislation will cut the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.
"It is encouraging, and truly, a breath of fresh air that Congress approached immigration reform in a bipartisan manner led by Senators from border states that deal with this issue every day," Manchin said.
The bill adds 700 miles of fencing, doubles border patrol agents by 20,000 and makes sure dangerous criminals who illegally entered the United States are deported first, Manchin said.
"Then, and only then, do we put in place a 13-year legalization process that is tough but fair, that requires all employers within five years to institute an employment verification system to make sure undocumented workers are not hired, and that guarantees that hardworking Americans will be hired first," he said.
An amendment by Manchin to cap compensation for private contractor executives employed for border security at $230,700, the most that government civilian employees can make in a given year, was approved by the Senate.
The bill also will require an electronic entry-exit system at all international airports and sea ports to track those who come to the country on visas and find those who have overstayed their visa. It will require the use of technology such as towers, ground sensors, thermal imaging, drones and Blackhawk helicopters, to be installed at the borders to ensure there is complete surveillance.
It was an historic vote, said Secretary-Treasurer Al Bacon of the Service Employees International Union District 1199 in Huntington.
"We now have a bill that maintains a clear and direct roadmap to citizenship, strong worker protections for current and future working families and keeps families together," he said.