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Immigration reform 101: How would Senate plan actually work?

Features of the bipartisan plan range from more drones along the Rio Grande to a path to citizenship for some 11 million people in the country illegally. But the fight is all about the details.

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But Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona on Tuesday morning said on CBS that the group gets to make a recommendation, nothing more.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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“The final decision will be made by the secretary of Homeland Security,” said Senator McCain.

It’s possible that this could be a highly contentious issue within the whole immigration debate going forward.

“This question is viewed as critical by people on both sides of the debate. Yet Senators appear to want to keep the answer to this question vague. Which tells us something about the politics of this fight – and about just how difficult the prospects for reform remain,” writes Greg Sargent on his left-leaning Washington Post Plum Line blog.

Other possible flash points include the plan’s favored treatment of agricultural workers, who get to stand in line ahead of many others. (So would undocumented children brought here by their parents, mirroring what President Obama has already ordered via executive action.)

The plan also calls for an “effective” system that allows employers to verify their employees’ immigration status. Presumably this would be either an update or a replacement of the current E-Verify government effort.

Currently, use of E-Verify is not mandatory for most employers. Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois said Monday that the Senate immigration plan would “require employers to verify that all their employees are legal and make sure that there’s a means of verification that is quick and accurate."

Some opponents of the Senate effort question whether any such system will ever be fully implemented.

“E-Verify is the main enforcement bait the open-borders crowd holds out to attract naïve conservatives to back amnesty,” writes Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Finally, the Senate plan also calls for the issuance of automatic green cards to anyone who earns an advanced degree in science, engineering, math, or technology at a US university.

So there you have it. It’s a sweeping plan that for now is just general enough to attract widespread support. The real fights will occur over the details of this or any other immigration plan that gets serious consideration in Congress.

"We are only part of the way done. There are loads of pitfalls," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York at the press conference outlining the effort.

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