The Senate voted 63-33 to advance an emergency spending bill that would provide $2.7 billion in funding for the crisis at the border.
More than 10 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to end debate on the motion to proceed to the bill. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who are up for reelection in November, voted against proceeding to the bill.
The House is moving forward with a rival border bill that would provide $659 million, with most of the money going toward border security rather than assistance for the detained children.
The House bill also contains changes to a 2008 immigration law that Democrats have rejected, raising the strong possibility that Congress could break for the August recess with the border funding up in the air.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to provide funding to federal agencies before the August recess lest they run out of funds to provide legal services, housing and food to the children in detention.
The White House originally asked for $3.7 billion in funding, but the bill provides funding only for this year.
Republicans balked at that level of funding and accused Obama of asking for a “blank check” that fails to address the root causes of the immigration surge.
Senate Republicans have introduced several bills that they want to offer as amendments to the border measure.
Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) bill would amend a 2008 human trafficking law so that the children from Central America cannot seek refugee status. He said his bill would also allow their asylum hearings to be expedited so that they can be quickly deported.
"People are losing their lives," Cornyn said Wednesday. "It is the opposite of compassion to allow this loophole to exist."
Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) bill includes similar language to Cornyn’s, but also bans the administration from spending money on its deferred action program. President Obama has issued an executive order to defer the deportation of “dreamers” — immigrant children who were brought to the United States by their parents illegally prior to 2007. Cruz has said he wants all of those children deported immediately.
With the parties divided over policy changes, congressional leaders have sought to gain the upper hand on the border issue before the recess.
Reid said Tuesday that he could use the House bill as a vehicle for the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill that passed last year. The House has refused to vote on that Senate-passed measure.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Reid was trying to tank the House bill.