The Senate will vote on an overhaul of the nation's immigration system before the Fourth of July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday.
On Thursday, Reid set in motion the lengthy process required to bring a bill to the Senate floor, giving lawmakers an opportunity to debate the issue this morning.
Speaking from the Senate floor Friday, Reid said he would utilize an "open as possible process" for senators wishing to add amendments to the bill, but he would place restrictions in order to finish work on the bill within the next month.
"I have committed to as open an amendment process as possible. I don't want to say totally open because sometimes with the procedures we have here, as with the farm bill, people throw monkey wrenches into things and we're not able to do as we want to do," Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said. "But we'll wrap this legislation up before the July 4 recess."
Opponents of the overhaul were quick to reserve time on the Senate floor to speak out. Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has led the opposition movement against the bill, was the first to speak.
In truth the bill is amnesty first with a promise of enforcement later, Sessions said. It devastates and weakens current law so that can never happen effectively."
Senators on both sides of the issue will take turns giving speeches through the rest of the day and into next week.
The timing of the vote is politically important. Immigration reform proponents know they need to complete work on the bill before the long summer recess, when lawmakers conduct town-hall meetings with constituents.
In 2009, the year President Barack Obama began pushing for a national overhaul of the health insurance system, some members of Congress faced furious and organized opposition at home that summer, which may have contributed to the reason why votes were delayed into the next year.
Achieving passage in the Senate, however, is just one hurdle, and it may not be the largest in this process. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House have still not made public their own proposal in the Republican-majority lower chamber, where there is more opposition to the measure than in the Senate. The schism could cause significant delays in bringing a final product to the president's desk.
Many Republicans in the House say they would prefer taking a piecemeal approach to reform instead of passing a comprehensive plan in one bill. Opponents to the bill, and even some key Republican supporters like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, emphasize that the bill does not contain satisfactory enforcement measures and will need to be changed before they will offer their support.