Senate casts key vote for landmark US immigration Bill

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Senate took a bipartisan vote to end debate on a sweeping but contentious immigration Bill on Thursday, paving the way for its final passage in the Upper Chamber.

Fourteen Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic side in voting to end debate on the most comprehensive immigration reform effort in a quarter century, with a final vote slated for 4pm (4am on Friday Singapore time).

The Bill would provide a 13-year pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented people in the country, revamp the legal immigration system and devote billions of dollars to enhanced security along the border with Mexico.

"We are moving one step closer to fixing our broken immigration system," Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, one of the authors of the Bill, said shortly after lawmakers voted 68-32 to invoke cloture on the far-reaching legislation.

The four Democrats and four Republicans known as the "Gang of Eight" spent months crafting the huge document, which pours US$46 billion (S$59.2 billion) into border security and other efforts, including electronic employment verification and a modernised entry-exit system.

The Bill, supported by President Barack Obama, was debated for three weeks on the Senate floor and dozens of amendments were added as Republicans squared off against one another over the merits of the legislation.

"It's been a very tough negotiation," Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu acknowledged. "It's not perfect, but it's balanced."

With the Bill expected to pass by a similar margin later in the day, it would then head to the House of Representatives, where its fate is far less certain.

Several House Republicans have said the Bill would be dead in the water without significant changes to the legislation, particularly on border security requirements.

Mr Obama has said he hopes to sign immigration reform into law this year.