Immigration reform that plans to legalize some 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US passed its first test as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve a bipartisan bill to overhaul the system.
The draft prepared by the "Gang of Eight" Republican and Democratic senators will next go to the full Senate for debate.
President Barack Obama congratulated the Judiciary Committee and hailed the "leadership" of its chairman, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.
The Tuesday vote was possible in part because Leahy at the last minute withdrew an amendment that would have allowed US citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards, "as a result of my conclusion that Republicans will kill this vital legislation if this anti-discrimination amendment is added", he said.
The committee improved the bill in many ways, including strengthening the provisions for border security, according to Republican Sen. John McCain, a member of the Gang of Eight who acknowledged being "guardedly optimistic" about the success of the reform.
Since the debate began, the committee was able to keep virtually intact the principal elements of the reform bill, which calls for an additional $3 billion for border security and penalizes companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met earlier Tuesday in the Oval Office with seven immigrants, including several undocumented youths, who asked them to keep up the pressure so the reform bill passes.
Another bipartisan Gang of Eight in the House of Representatives announced last week an agreement in principle of the reform and plans to introduce it officially for debate the first week in June.