The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved an immigration reform bill that allows millions of illegal aliens to seek U.S. citizenship without leaving the country – but not before lawmakers stripped out a proposal that would mandate criminal penalties for those individuals inside the United States illegally.

The criminal-penalty aspect has been the cause of protests across the country, including one yesterday drawing hundreds of thousands to the streets of Los Angeles. Today, thousands of public-school students in L.A. walked out of class in protest, causing a major downtown freeway to be closed.

The 12-6 committee vote clears the way for the Senate to debate the bill beginning tomorrow.

“All Americans wanted fairness and they got it this evening,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who was instrumental in pushing the bill.

Under the legislation, illegal aliens in the United States would obtain six-year nonimmigrant visas under which they could work in the country and travel outside the country. The aliens would have to pay a $1,000 fine and undergo background checks.

After six years, the aliens would be able to meet certain requirements and then apply for a green card, or permanent residency.

The bill also provides for strengthening the border patrol and instituting a guest-worker program.

GOP Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike DeWine of Ohio sided with the Democrats on the panel.

Two years ago, Bush proposed a guest-worker program that has been criticized by immigration-reform advocates as nothing more than an amnesty program for foreigners who entered the United States illegally.

If you’d like to sound off on this issue, please take part in the WorldNetDaily poll.

Related special offers:

Michelle Malkin’s “Invasion”

“Conquest of Aztlan”

Previous stories:

Millions of illegals to become citizens?

Bush slammed for scant mention of border issues

Immigration emerging as next big issue

Lawmaker: Terror war spilling across border

Illegals crackdown ‘too little, too late’

Highway sound barriers as border fences?

Chertoff declares: Expel all illegals

Homeland Security bill lets illegals go free

Zogby poll: Americans fed up with illegal aliens

Americans urge: Defend the border!

Revolt begins against Bush push for illegals

Petition to Bush: No amnesty for illegals

How to be an illegal

Illegals estimated to number 18-20 million

Bush snuggles illegal aliens

Online polls: No licenses for illegals

Voters approve new crackdown on illegals

3 million illegals to U.S. this year

Al-Qaida runs own travel agency

Study: Illegals cost U.S. $10 billion a year

Authorities won’t enforce immigration laws

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.