(CNSNews.com) - The Senate voted 62-36 to pass an immigration reform bill on Thursday, with 23 Republicans voting for it, four Democrats voting against it, and just about everyone saying it's unclear what the final bill will look like, once the Senate and the House try to hammer out a compromise on their very different bills.
The Senate bill establishes a path to citizenship (amnesty, critics insist) for millions of people who came to this country illegally, and that provision is anathema to some conservatives.
Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who voted for the bill, said he's "proud" that the Senate has acted.
"We've taken a bill, and we've made it better [through amendments]," Majority Leader Frist said in a statement. "We've taken a bill that the American people would have concluded was amnesty -- and by my lights, we took the amnesty out while we put the security in."
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a leading opponent of the Senate immigration bill, said the bill certainly does include amnesty.
"Unfortunately, the United States Senate today let the American people down by passing a deeply flawed bill that gives the illegal alien population every benefit our nation can bestow on its citizens, including participation in the Social Security System based on their illegal work histories."
According to Sessions, the bill has numerous fatal flaws aside from amnesty, including flawed border security and ineffective workplace enforcement.
Furthermore, Sessions said, the bill increases future immigration levels to at least three times the current level; it does nothing to ensure that the nation's future immigration policy reflects U.S. needs; and then there's the price tag.
According to Sessions, various analyses indicate the bill "might have costs as great as half a trillion dollars in any future 10-year period." Sen. Sessions called the bill "a huge, monumental budget buster."
Mexican President Vincente Fox, called the bill "a moment that millions of families have been hoping for."
The Democratic National Committee hailed the bill's passage, congratulating Senate Democrats for their "continued leadership" on immigration reform.
"Democrats have consistently fought for immigration reform that strengthens our borders, protects U.S. workers and their wages, reunites families and allows hard-working immigrants who pay taxes and obey the law the opportunity to earn the right to apply for the responsibilities of citizenship," DNC Chairman Howard Dean said in a statement.
"While the Senate bill is better than the Republican bill passed by the House with the President's backing, the next important step of reconciling these measures could erase any progress already made," Dean warned.
He urged President Bush and Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist to reject the "anti-immigrant and un-American elements of the House bill."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the bill, saying it addresses both the security and economic needs of the country.
However, the Chamber -- while hailing the bill as a "major step" toward fixing the nation's immigration system -- said there are some significant issues that need to be resolved, including the new employment verification system and the prevailing wage requirements.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who supported the bill, said there is "broad agreement" among Americans that more must be done to protect the nation's borders - and that guest workers must be allowed to fill jobs that Americans won't take.
"The big question, and the one which generates the most controversy, is how do you deal with the estimated 11 million undocumented workers already in the United States?" Graham said it's not feasible to deport 11 million people who sneaked into the country illegally.
"This solution is not practical and is not a reasonable option. The Senate bill comes up with a just punishment and probationary system, while not perfect, that begins to bring some order to the chaos that exists right now," Graham said.
'Come out from the shadows'
Sen. John McCain said failure to produce a comprehensive immigration reform bill would be "an unacceptable proposition."
He also defended the bill's "earned citizenship" provision for millions of illegal aliens: "Some Americans believe we must find all these millions, round them up and send them back to the countries they came from. I don't know how you do that. And I don't know why you would want to," McCain said.
"Why not say to those undocumented workers who are working the jobs that the rest of us refuse, come out from the shadows, earn your citizenship in this country. You broke the law to come here, so you must go to the back of the line, pay a fine, stay employed, learn our language, pay your taxes, obey our laws, and earn the right to be an American."
By the numbers
Numbers USA, a group that wants the United States to restrict immigration, said the Senate bill defies Americans who oppose amnesty - and who want legal immigration numbers reduced, not multiplied.
If the Senate bill becomes law in its current form, "it would create the largest immigration increase in U.S. history - a disaster for American workers and taxpayers," Numbers USA said on its website.
The group argues that the Senate bill would increase legal immigration by 60 million people over the next 20 years and grant amnesty to an estimated eight to 10 million illegal aliens.