The U.S. Senate passed legislation Thursday that offers the hope of citizenship to millions of immigrants living illegally in America’s shadows and promises a military-style effort to secure the long-porous border with Mexico. Its prospects remain highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The bipartisan vote was 68-32 on a measure that sits atop President Barack Obama’s second-term domestic agenda. Even so, conservatives generally oppose citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. unlawfully, complicating the bill’s prospects in the House.


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Spectators in galleries that overlook the Senate floor watched expectantly as senators voted one by one from their desks. Some onlookers erupted in chants of “Yes, we can” after Vice President Joe Biden announced the bill’s passage.

After three weeks of debate, there was no doubt about the outcome. Fourteen Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill.

In a written statement, Obama coupled praise for the Senate’s action with a plea for resolve by supporters as the House works on the issue. “Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen,” said the president, who was traveling in Africa.

In the Senate, at least, the developments marked an end to years of gridlock on immigration. The shift began taking shape quickly after the 2012 presidential election, when numerous Republican leaders concluded the party must show a more welcoming face to Hispanic voters who had given Obama more than 70 percent of their support. Even so, division among Republicans was evident as potential 2016 presidential contenders split. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was one of the Gang of 8, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas were opposed to the bill.

In the final hours of debate, members of the so-called bipartisan Gang of 8, the group that drafted the measure, frequently spoke in personal terms while extolling the bill’s virtues, rebutting its critics _ and appealing to the House members who turn comes next.