The estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish people living here came closer than they have for decades to a path to citizenship yesterday when the U.S. Senate gave final approval to a 1,200-page bill that promises to overhaul immigration laws for the first time since 1986.

The bill passed by a 68-32 vote. All 52 Democrats and two independents were joined by 14 of the Senate's 46 Republicans in support of the bill.

The bill, which is backed by the White House, has the potential to become the crowning legislative achievement of President Barack Obama's second term.

According to CNN, in a statement Obama hailed the Senate vote as 'a critical step' toward fixing what he called a broken immigration system. The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled House with the president adding that 'we just need Congress to finish the job.'

In a statement the Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore welcomed the Senate's approval of the bill.

'This is a very positive development that takes us another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by undocumented Irish emigrants in the US and allowing them to emerge from the shadows.

'I strongly welcome the provisions in the Bill passed by the Senate to address the concerns of our undocumented and the specific E3 provisions for Ireland that provide a legal pathway for the future.

'I am particularly pleased that the Bill includes provisions that will allow for continuation of the summer J1 visa program that has meant so much to successive generations of young Irish people.

Gilmore continued: 'I pay tribute to hard work and persistence of Senators Leahy and Schumer and other members of the US Senate bi-partisan group who brought forward the original proposals from which the bill derives. I also welcome the considerable bi-partisan support that has emerged in support of the Senate bill and hope that this bodes well for its further prospects.

'Focus will now shift to the US House of Representatives.   I and the Government will continue to monitor developments closely.  I intend to travel to Washington DC over the coming weeks to consult directly with our friends and key contacts on Capitol Hill about the issues involved,' Gilmore concluded.

The majority of congressional conservatives remain staunchly opposed to the bill however, and many have declared it dead on arrival in the House.

Anticipating pushback, President Obama acknowledged that those opposed to any reform will try even harder to derail it. He urged people to contact their House representatives and 'tell them to do the right thing.'

Republicans find themselves in a bind over the issue. Keenly aware of the GOP's crushing loss among Hispanics in the 2012 election, party elders have pushed for a path to citizenship for the country's roughly 11 million undocumented residents.

But for many of the GOP and their supporters any path to citizenship for the undocumented is a form of amnesty.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah reportedly called the vote on the measure 'largely symbolic' and he predicted it would ultimately be relegated to the 'ash heap of history.'

If passed the bill would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, while raising the cap on visas for high skilled workers and establishing a new visa program for low skilled workers on America's farms.

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