A group of eight Democratic and Republicans senators, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, will officially release a wide-ranging immigration plan Monday that could give a pathway to citizenship, tighten border security and increase guest-worker permits.
The five-page plan from the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” contains most of the key concepts Rubio has presented to conservative media figures over the past month. The senators, still working on the specifics, want to draft legislation by March.
Most controversially, the proposal would give a pathway to residency — and even citizenship — to many of the estimated 11 million immigrants unlawfully in the United States.
While some conservatives call it amnesty, Rubio says it’s not because the immigrants would have to pay fines, back taxes and undergo a criminal background check — a similar proposal made by President Barack Obama in May 2011.
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“We can’t round up millions of people and deport them,” Rubio wrote Sunday in the Las Vegas Review Journal, the home paper of Democratic Senate 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 wrote.
Those undocumented immigrants granted legal residency wouldn’t have access to welfare at first; nor would they be eligible for citizenship until 1) those who legally applied before them get their citizenship and 2) the borders are verified as secure.
Conservative commentator Mickey Kaus bashed the "Rubio bill" on Twitter as a "con."
"Con at heart of Rubio bill-Undocumented are legalized immediately! Not going to be kicked out if enforcement’s degraded," Kaus wrote.
The proposal also seeks to give special consideration to farm laborers, high-tech workers and young people who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children. The latter proposal stops short of the DREAM Act for college- and military-bound undocumented immigrants.
The Gang of Eight’s plan rests on four "pillars:"
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.
The plan is just a framework. So many of the hard details concerning how long people would wait for citizenship, how the border is declared secure and roughly how much it would all cost will have to be worked out in the coming months.
The Senate legislation, whenever it’s drafted, will also spell out how the visa process would be streamlined, what new types of work permits would be available and how the government plans to stop businesses from hiring illegal immigrants.
Obama plans to speak Tuesday in Nevada about immigration and told some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week that the issue is a top priority.
The Gang of Eight hopes to have everything voted on by the August recess.
House Republicans look content to let the Senate lead. Rubio has close ties to Miami Republican Reps Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart, who have bucked their own party over immigration and are likely to support the effort. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a former vice-presidential candidate, said he supported Rubio’s proposal.
The group of senators includes Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Arizona’s John McCain and Jeff Flake. Democrats include New York’s Charles Schumer, Michigan’s Richard Durbin, Colorado’s Michael Bennett and New Jersey’s Bob Menendez.
With bipartisan backing from so many high-profile senators, proposal’s chances of passage look good. The pressure to do something has also has mounted on both sides.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney barely earned a quarter of the Hispanic vote, which helped cost him the election. Hispanics began shifting away from the GOP in bigger numbers ever since Republicans played a leading role in stopping an immigration reform plan in 2007 backed by McCain, former President Bush and former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, whose seat Rubio now holds.
“Look at the last election,” McCain said Sunday on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “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."
Obama wants to make good on his promise to fix the immigration system. And Menendez on This Week said the speedy timetable shouldn’t be too much of an impediment.
"First of all, Americans support it, in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it," Menendez said.
The senators have been meeting since the November elections, but only this month did details emerge as Rubio became a leading voice for the effort. Rubio garnered support by courting conservative media and commentators, most of whom have received it favorably.
The proposal also dovetails with anti-sex trafficking proposals that Rubio backs. He says many sex trafficking victims and witnesses are here unlawfully and are therefore reluctant to cooperate with authorities for fear of deportation.
“It’s not a good idea to have millions of people permanently trapped in an immigration status that keeps them forever at a distance from our society,” Rubio wrote Sunday.