From AP - News Local/State -

Senate Immigration Bill Clears First Tests


Immigration reform advocates pray before the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in the Senate Hart Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 9, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The bipartisan group of senators supporting a plan to overhaul immigration laws has been sticking together on Thursday, amid a critical series of early test votes.

The coalition turned back challenges from conservative critics as the Senate Judiciary Committee worked to refine the legislation. It would secure the nation's borders and offer eventual citizenship to millions who are currently living illegally in the United States.

The panel rejected three efforts by opponents of the bill to toughen the improvements that must be made to border security before unauthorized immigrants can apply for legal status.

Republicans Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake -- part of the bipartisan group that helped draft the measure -- joined all 10 Democrats on the panel in blocking each of the changes.

If the political alignment remains intact, the committee is expected to approve the measure within two weeks. That would clear the way for a showdown on the Senate floor in June.

President Barack Obama has made the bill a top priority in the opening months of his second term.