Senators to offer immigration plan

Sen. Robert Menendez is part of a bipartisan group working to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
Sen. Robert Menendez is part of a bipartisan group working to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
Posted: January 28, 2013

WASHINGTON - A key group of senators from both parties will unveil on Monday the framework of a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, including a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.

The detailed four-page statement of principles will carry the signatures of four Republicans and four Democrats, including Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey. It's a bipartisan push that would have been unimaginable just months ago on one of the country's most emotionally divisive issues.

The document is intended to provide guideposts that would allow legislation to be drafted by the end of March, including a potentially controversial "tough but fair" route to citizenship for those now living in the country illegally.

It would allow undocumented immigrants with otherwise clean criminal records to quickly achieve probationary legal residency after paying a fine and back taxes.

But they could pursue full citizenship - giving them the right to vote and access to government benefits - only after new measures are in place to prevent a future influx of illegal immigrants.

Those would include additional border security, a new program to help employers verify the legal status of their employees, and stricter checks to prevent immigrants from overstaying visas.

And those undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship would be required to go to the end of the waiting list to get a green card that would allow permanent residency and eventual citizenship, behind those who had already legally applied at the time of the law's enactment.

The goal is to balance a fervent desire by advocates and many Democrats to allow illegal immigrants to emerge from society's shadows without fear of deportation with a concern held by many Republicans that doing so would only encourage more illegal immigration.

"We will ensure that this is a successful permanent reform to our immigration system that will not need to be revisited," the group asserts in its statement of principles.

The framework identifies two groups as deserving special consideration for a separate and potentially speedier pathway to full citizenship: young people who were brought to the country illegally as minors and agricultural workers whose labor, often at subsistence wages, has long been critical to the nation's food supply.

It also addresses the need to expand available visas for high-tech workers and promises to make green cards available for those who pursue graduate education in certain fields in the United States.

The new proposal marks the most substantive bipartisan step Congress has taken toward new immigration laws since a comprehensive reform bill failed on the floor of the Senate in 2007.

It comes as the White House is gearing up for a renewed push for reform. On Tuesday, President Obama will travel to Las Vegas to urge quick action; he told Hispanic members of Congress at a White House meeting Friday that the issue is his top legislative priority.

The emerging bipartisan consensus over immigration has developed with remarkable speed, as leading Republicans have concluded the GOP must quickly shift in response to its sweeping November election loss or risk becoming a permanent minority in a nation with a growing number of Latino voters.

"I'll give you a little straight talk," said Sen John McCain (R. Ariz.,), a member of the bipartisan working group, on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. "Look at the last election. Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons, and we've got to understand that."

The group's Republicans also include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. Rubio unveiled a similar list of principles to guide reform three weeks ago that has received a surprisingly warm reception from leading conservative pundits.

The framework is the result of intense behind-the-scenes talks between the senators, who have met five times since the November election, rotating between offices of McCain and Sen. Charles Schumer, (D., N.Y.)

Other Democrats involved are Menendez, Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.)

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