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US Senate Panel Begins Immigration Debate

From left, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., standing, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, confer as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets on immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 9, 2013.
A U.S. Senate panel has started considering a massive overhaul of American immigration laws, a contentious debate that is likely to last months and be one of the major issues considered by Congress this year.

U.S. President Barack Obama has embraced immigration reforms that would create a way for 11 million foreign nationals already in the U.S. without proper documentation to become citizens. A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers has drafted a package of changes calling for tougher border security and a ban on employers hiring workers who are in the country illegally.

But the overhaul faces intense opposition from other legislators, chiefly conservative Republicans opposed to allowing immigrants they consider to be lawbreakers to become citizens.

Attempts at immigration reform have long stymied Congress, and it has not approved major changes since 1986.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee began debate Thursday, one opponent of the draft legislation, Senator Charles Grassley, said any new law should not "repeat the mistakes of the past." One supporter of a new law, Senator Charles Schumer, said the proposal is not perfect, but would help boost the U.S. economy, the world's largest.