The U.S. Senate voted 82-15 on a motion to begin formal debate on the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill that would affect 11 million unauthorized immigrants and U.S. employers.
"There are 11 million reasons to pass common-sense immigration reform that mends our broken system — 11 million stories of heartbreak and suffering that should motivate Congress to act," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.
In reference to the millions of immigrants currently in the country illegally, President Obama said, "Yes, they broke the rules; they didn't wait their turn. They shouldn't be let off easy. They shouldn't be allowed to game the system.”
“But at the same time, the vast majority of these individuals aren't looking for any trouble. They're just looking to provide for their families, contribute to their communities,” he added.
Here’s TheBlaze’s Doc Thompson discussing his thoughts on the Gang of Eight's immigration bill:
Republicans, for their part, indicate that they will seek tougher border security provisions as well as tougher terms for immigrants seeking to gain legal status.
“This bill has serious flaws," said Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), adding that the bill’s passage is hardly assured.
"The Gang of Eight has done its work. Now it's time for the Gang of 100 to do its work — for the entire Senate to have its say on this issue, and see if we can do something to improve the status quo," he added.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Gang of Eight, has in recent weeks voiced concerns over the bill, saying repeatedly that he cannot support it unless significant changes are made in the bill’s approach to border security.
"Border security is not an anti-immigrant measure," said Sen. Rubio. "I refuse to accept the idea that the most powerful nation on Earth, the nation that put a man on the moon, is incapable of securing its own border."
Sen. Rubio filed an amendment on Tuesday that would require all immigrants to learn English when they apply for green cards.
"Of all of the issue swirling around this bill the path to citizenship for those who are here illegally is the single most divisive issue," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
"And that is the issue on which the Obama White House and Senate Democrats insist, and by insisting on that division I believe they by design destine this bill to be voted down," he added.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner said he hoped companion legislation could clear committee in the House by the end of the month.
In an ABC interview, the Ohio Republican sidestepped when asked if he is prepared to support a pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally. "A lot of these big questions will be decided on the House floor," he said.
The Senate debate on the bill is expected to last weeks.
Here’s a breakdown of how the senate voted:
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
The Associated Press contributed to this report.