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2013 Immigration Reform: Republicans And Democrats Both Want a Path to Citizenship

A bipartisan coalition of senators has proposed an immigration reform plan that will include a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States – but only after the U.S.-Mexico border is secured.

The plan, titled “A Bipartisan Framework for Immigration Reform,” was unveiled on Monday, a day before President Obama is expected to outline his own immigration reform strategy. The senators’ proposal confronts the most controversial issue – how to handle the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country – by setting up a system under which immigrants illegally residing in the United States can register with the government, pay a fine, and be given probationary legal residency including the right to work.

According to the plan, developed by Republicans Marco Rubio (Fla.), John McCain and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and Democrats Michael Bennett (Colo.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), illegal residents would be given “end of the line” status for permanent citizenship. The eight senators have scheduled a major press conference for 2:30 p.m. EST Monday.

Their proposal requires the federal government to move to improve border security before any changes are made to immigration laws, as well as implementation of a new enforcement strategy which would require immigration officials to track persons who have overstayed visas.

While Rubio struggled last year to attract conservative support for his plan to allow a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” or the children of undocumented immigrants who are in the country through no legal fault of their own, his involvement in the plan may now increase its chances of success. Rubio, a Cuban American and the son of immigrants, is widely seen as a serious contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. His views on immigration are considerably more open than many others in the right wing of the GOP, and have attracted serious attention and praise from high-profile conservative leaders such as vice presidential contender Paul Ryan, FOX News host Bill O’Reilly, and anti-illegal-immigration critic Lou Dobbs.

The proposed legislation has something for everyone: conservatives seeking greater border security, and the path to citizenship desired by Democrats. Sen. Schumer referred to future citizenship requirements as a “bottom line” for a bipartisan plan.

Some Republicans have referred to any plan that allows undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship as an “amnesty,” a charge Rubio rebutted Sunday.

“We can’t round up millions of people and deport them,” Rubio wrote in the Las Vegas Review Journal, which is not-so-coincidentally the home paper of Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“But we also can’t fix our broken immigration system if we provide incentives for people to come here illegally — precisely the signal a blanket amnesty would send,” Rubio continued.

However, the plan remains a framework. Meticulous details – such as the specifics of citizenship requirements, enforcement mechanisms, and how to verify border security – remain to be worked out. Some details that are clear include a specific focus on farm laborers, workers with high-tech skills, and those brought illegally into the U.S. as children, as well as a guarantee that undocumented immigrants registered under the program would be ineligible for welfare or citizenship until those in front of them in the queue had passed. It says border security will have to be approved by “a commission of governors, attorney generals, and community leaders living along the Southwest Border.”

The senators have been meeting since the November 6 general elections, when Latinos and other minority voters proved a decisive – and for some, surprising – electoral force for Democrats. Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were able to score less than a quarter of the Latino electorate. On Sunday, Sen. McCain told ABC’s This Week that “[the GOP is] losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons. And we’ve got to understand that.”

Sen. Menendez explained on that show that the plan would pass speedily for several reasons, including that “Americans support it, in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.”

The White House released a statement neither opposing or supporting the plan – likely in anticipation of introducing their own immigration package, which will likely contain a faster track to citizenship. In his Inaugural Address last Monday, the president singled out revamping the American immigration system as a serious objective for his second term.

“The President looks forward to redoubling the administration’s efforts to work with Congress on this important issue this week,” the executive branch said in a statement.

More than likely, any eventual reforms will include a mixture of the bipartisan reforms proposed by Congress and the more liberal slate of measures Obama will propose this week.

See the four pillars of the senators’ plan below:

1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required.

2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families.

3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers.

4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

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