The Senate signaled support for major provisions of a comprehensive immigration bill on Wednesday by rejecting many proposed amendments, including one that would have made it much harder for many illegal immigrants to achieve legal status.
Architects of the legislation said they hoped that by plowing through the amendments, they would gain support for a motion to end debate on the legislation. The motion, scheduled for a vote on Thursday, needs 60 votes to succeed.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, "We have made a lot of progress," adding, "The end really is in sight."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who opposes the bill, said, "The train is moving down the tracks."
While senators struggled with the complex legislation, which calls for the biggest changes in immigration policy since 1986, executives from high-tech companies descended on Capitol Hill to express concerns.
Steven A. Ballmer, chief executive of Microsoft, was among the businessmen pleading with Congress to increase the number of H-1B visas and green cards available to skilled foreign professionals. Ginny Terzano, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, said such visas were urgently needed to help meet "a talent crisis" in the industry.
The Senate bill, which embodies a fragile bipartisan compromise strongly supported by President Bush, would offer legal status to most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Administration officials said they hoped that the Senate would pass the bill with 70 votes, to build momentum in the House, where the legislation faces opposition.
By a vote of 51-46, the Senate on Wednesday rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that could have made hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants ineligible for legal status.
Under Cornyn's proposal, gang members, terrorists and other convicted felons would have been permanently barred from the United States and denied immigration benefits. Most significant, the amendment would have denied legal status to illegal immigrants who had flouted deportation orders or been convicted of identity theft or fraudulent use of identification documents.
Cornyn said his purpose was not to cater to "racists, nativists or know-nothings," but to exclude "felons who have shown contempt for American law." But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Cornyn's amendment would "gut the bill." And Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the chief Democratic architect of the bill, said: "Almost every hard-working immigrant in this country has been forced, at one time or another, to use false documents to get a job."
Cornyn said his amendment was a defining issue for presidential candidates. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a co-author of the overall bill, voted against Cornyn's amendment and for a Democratic alternative.
The four senators seeking the Democratic nomination also voted against Cornyn's proposal.