DENVER – After months of closed-door negotiations, a much-anticipated proposal to revamp the nation’s immigration policy will likely be considered this week by lawmakers.
Details of the bill, which a bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Eight” have been working on in private since late last year, first began to emerge this week when they were leaked to the media.
The “Gang of Eight” includes U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
According to reports, illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. prior to January 1, 2012 would be given legal status in the U.S. under the terms of the bill – provided they pay a fine, pass a background check, and have a job. Undocumented immigrants would also be allowed to apply for legal permanent residency –known as a “green card” – after ten years. They could then apply for U.S. citizenship.
Critics say that this provisional legal status amounts to amnesty, noting that under current law, immigrants who have been in the United States illegally for an extended period of time are subject to removal, and barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.
The legislation’s supporters dispute the notion that the bill provides amnesty.
“It will be cheaper, faster and easier for people to go back home and wait 10 years than it will be to go through this process that I’ve outlined,” said Rubio during a weekend appearance on Fox News Sunday. “That’s why it’s not amnesty.”
The bill’s pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants has prompted concern from those who believe it is unfair to foreigners who comply with American immigration laws and come to the U.S. legally.
“The part that I’ve got deep concerns about is any path to citizenship for those who are here illegally,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “I think that is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who have followed the rule, who’ve waited in line.”
“[I]f we pass something that allows those here illegally to achieve citizenship it means you’re a chump for having stayed in your own country and followed the rules,” Cruz added. “Legal immigrants get left behind in a lot of these discussions.”
In addition to providing legal status to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, the legislation authorizes billions in funding for more manpower, technology and fencing to improve border security.
The bill would require the Homeland Security Department to achieve “100 percent surveillance of the southwest border with Mexico and apprehend 90 percent of the people trying to cross illegally in high-risk sectors” according to a summary of the bill’s provisions on the Washington Post website.
But the legislation’s security measures may not be enough of a sweetener for Republicans, some of whom note that new laws and enforcement measures will have little impact if they are not enforced.
“[T]hey have produced legislation … that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that’s here effectively today and then there’s a promise of enforcement in the future,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) told ABC’s This Week. “Even if you pass laws today that appear to be effective, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be enforced.”
The “Gang of Eight” proposal would also overhaul the nation’s temporary worker process, creating a new visa program that would admit hundreds of thousands of agricultural and low-skilled foreign workers while tightening the number of visas available to the relatives of U.S. citizens and legal U.S. residents.
The bipartisan bill will reportedly be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.