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Immigration reform: 'This will be the year,' bipartisan Senate 'gang' says (+video)

The politics of immigration reform have 'turned upside down' to make the Senate plan possible. It proposes a long path to citizenship, but only after the US border is deemed to be secure.

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The bipartisan proposal would require undocumented residents first to register with the government. Pending a background check and financial transactions including back taxes and the paying of a fine, the individuals would receive legal residency in the US that allows them to work and obtain drivers licenses.

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Then, once the border security and enforcement measures are in place, those with legal status would have to pass an additional background check, learn English and civics, and provide proof of their work history in the US, among other requirements, in order to take a place in line for legal permanent residency behind all other applicants for green cards at the time the legislation is enacted.

The bipartisan group is “creating a road to citizenship and making sure undocumented immigrants are starting at the back of the road,” says Ali Noorani, head of the American Immigration Forum. “They want to make sure that folks who are in the process, that path remains free of obstruction for them.”

But how long will that process take? That remains to be hashed out, an aide to one Democratic senator involved in the group said Monday.

According to immigration reform principals enunciated by Obama in 2011, undocumented individuals would have to wait eight years before obtaining legal permanent residence and then another five years more before being eligible for citizenship.

That timeline could be “aggressive,” says Ms. Cohen of Mintz Levin, because current backlogs for some green cards stretch more than a decade, and it remains to be seen what types of changes forthcoming legislation would offer to shorten wait times for current applicants.

Opposition to proposal

But for many opponents of past immigration fixes, even nearly two decades of waiting appeared too much like amnesty.

“In the race to out-amnesty Obama, the Gang of Eight today rehashed the failed amnesty plan from six years ago,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for Numbers USA, an advocacy group that fights for lower immigration levels, calling the plan little more than “Amnesty 2.0.”

And Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, who until this year served as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration issues, offered a refrain likely to be echoed by other conservative House Republicans.

“When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs, and encourages more illegal immigration,” Representative Smith said in a statement. “By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”

But even in the face of opposition, Senate lawmakers and a wide array of interest groups from the conservative-leaning Chamber of Commerce to the liberal AFL-CIO expressed optimism that this time would, in fact, be different.

The growing clout of Latino and Asian voters, those confident of reform say, will provide the final political push necessary to get legislation to the president’s desk before year’s end.

“Elections,” said Senator McCain, a veteran of immigration political wars, in a one-word explanation of why the current gang would succeed where others had failed. “Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens.... This is a preeminent issue for those citizens.”


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