In what's believed to be the first time since 2005, a U.S. senator gave a floor speech in Spanish Tuesday.
That senator, Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia, spoke for 15 minutes in Spanish to lobby for the passage of the immigration reform bill currently before the Senate.
Kaine and the rest of the bill's supporters have fought for the past two weeks to gain bipartisan backing for the measure, which would create a new path to citizenship for approximately 11 million illegal immigrants.
Kaine explained his decision to give the speech in Spanish by saying, "I think it is appropriate that I spend a few minutes explaining the bill in Spanish, a language that has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. Spanish is also spoken by almost 40 million Americans who have a lot at stake in the outcome of the debate."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke immediately before Kaine and took a different perspective in addressing the language divide that exists for many immigrants. Rubio said immigrants who don't learn English are less able to contribute to the economy. An amendment to the immigration bill introduced by Rubio aims to solve his concerns by requiring English proficiency in order to acquire a green card.
The last comprehensive immigration bill in the U.S. was passed in 1986 and many of the provisions in the current proposal are intended to address issues that have arisen since then, such as increased border security, undocumented immigrants and the status of spouses and children of legalized immigrants.
The proposed bill aims to create new ways for these immigrants to become citizens. According to Kaine, it would address current citizenship issues by providing sufficient visas to erase the backlog of family and employment-based visa applications in seven years. It would also create a non-immigrant agricultural worker visa among other provisions that deal with workplace needs in the agricultural industry.
Opponents of the bill have argued it doesn't provide strong enough border protection.
The measure recently gained momentum after Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) expressed her support. Ayotte is the first Republican outside of the bill's drafters to do so.
After Tuesday's remarks by Kaine and other senators, the bill was approved by an 82-15 vote to go into full debate. A final vote could come in early July.