Tennessee senators voted Tuesday to open the door to formal Senate debate on the most wide-ranging rewrite of U.S. immigration policy since 2007 and indicated their desire to see real reforms occur.
The Senate voted 82-15 to bring the bill to the floor, which seeks to re-establish the process by which more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could gain legal status. Both Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker were among the 27 Republicans to vote in favor of the measure.
All 15 senators voting against the bill were Republicans.
Although both Alexander and Corker offered statements expressing general optimism for working to ensure meaningful reforms to U.S. immigration policy, neither of the senators indicated if they would be able to support the current bill all the way to final passage. The bipartisan legislation, which was put forward by a group of eight senators, has also gained support from President Barack Obama.
In an emailed statement, Corker said he was weighing the bill from several angles.
"From many different standpoints—national security, economic competitiveness and the rule of law—I don't think our country can afford to keep kicking the can down the road on immigration reform, so I voted to debate the issue," Corker said. "I hope as the bill is debated, the border security and visa overstay issues will be addressed in a way that allows me to support this bill."
Recently, Corker suggested the bill as proposed did not sufficiently satisfy his concerns regarding U.S. border security and visa overstay issues, according to a Tennessean report. Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, is ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In an emailed statement, Alexander said he voted to open debate on the measure because he saw it as an opportunity to debate the nation's issues with border security and to "fix a broken system."
"Millions here illegally have de facto amnesty," Alexander said. 'We are excluding scientists and workers who could help grow our economy. It is the constitutional responsibility of the president and Congress to write the rules for a legal immigration system and to enforce them. This was the first of many votes, and after examining this legislation and every amendment closely, I will be voting to secure our border, end de facto amnesty and create an effective immigration system that respects the rule of law."
Debate on the bill is expected to occur over the next two weeks, with a final Senate vote occurring in early July. From there, the bill will be taken up in the House of Representatives.