The Senate bill would allow most undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before Dec. 31, 2011, to immediately gain "registered provisional" status after paying a $500 fine and back taxes, provided they have not committed a felony or three misdemeanors.
They could then apply for lawful permanent resident status in 10 years after paying additional fees. Three years later, they could apply for citizenship, according to the plan summary.
The path would be easier for "Dreamers" — people brought to the country illegally by their parents when they were young — who would be able to apply for a green card in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter. Foreign farmworkers would have a similar path to help patch a shortage of such workers in the agricultural industry.
"We’re in the fifth year of very high unemployment," said Roy Beck, chief executive of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower immigration. "We’re in a terrible situation for American workers. People at the lower levels have seen real wages decline. Given that backdrop, why would you grant people amnesty?"
The senators say the bill will require the government to implement strict new border-control measures — including up to $7 billion in new surveillance drones, fencing, border guards and workplace tracking systems — before the undocumented immigrants are granted green cards. The bill stipulates that the government must surveil 100 percent of the border and apprehend 90 percent of the people trying to enter illegally in high-risk sectors.
"Amnesty is the forgiveness of something. In fact, there will be consequences for having violated the law, the type of consequences that ensure that there’s no incentive to do it this way again," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the bipartisan group, said on NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Obama has said he will not support a path to citizenship that is tied to a specific "triggers" on border control. Asked whether the president could accept the border-control principles in the Senate group’s proposal, Carney responded: "I think that while we have not seen final language on the legislation that the Gang of Eight will be putting forward, as we understand it, it is consistent with the president’s position."
While trying to address the problem of illegal immigration, the Senate bill also aims to clear a backlog of more than 4 million foreigners around the world who have applied for family-based visas to be reunited with relatives in the United States.
But the proposal would also put more emphasis on "merit-based" work skills than family ties over the ensuing years.
The bill proposes eliminating 70,000 green cards reserved for foreign brothers, sisters and adult married children of U.S. residents, as well as a diversity lottery aimed at giving green cards to people selected at random from foreign countries each year.
On the flip side, the legislation would create an estimated 220,000 new green cards for people with exceptional work skills, including entertainers, scientists and professors.
Under current law, only about 14 percent of green cards are granted to people based on employment needs, but one Senate aide estimated that the percentage could eventually increase to 45 or 50 percent under the new proposal.