Senate panel close to Obama plan on path to citizenship for illegal immigrants

Alex Wong/Getty Images - From left, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) make up part of the bipartisan group of senators working on comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigrants who are in the United States illegally could become citizens in 13 years under a plan being developed by a bipartisan Senate group, matching the overall wait proposed by the Obama administration, a person familiar with the negotiations said Sunday.

The Senate timeline, which is being finalized, would be structured slightly differently than President Obama’s. The nation’s 11 million undocumented residents could earn legal status after a decade and become naturalized citizens three years later. Obama’s proposal would grant green cards within eight years and, potentially, citizenship five years later.

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In both scenarios, the undocumented immigrants would be required to pay a penalty, file back taxes and learn English.

The Senate immigration working group, made up of four Democrats and four Republicans, is aiming to release a comprehensive bill by mid-April. Their offices declined to comment about the citizenship timeline, first reported on the New York Times’ Web site Sunday.

“We are dealing with the question of the 11 million people paying their taxes, having a path to legalization and, then, ultimately, to citizenship — tough issues, but we are coming together and I think we can do it,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The 10-year wait for a green card for illegal immigrants would help ensure that the existing backlog of more than 4 million people who have applied for visas through legal measures would be processed first.

Democrats have pushed for a faster timeline, arguing that long waits could discourage immigrants from applying and maintain a second-class tier of U.S. residents not fully empowered to participate in society and the workforce. Republicans have argued that it is unfair to grant citizenship to undocumented residents more quickly than to those who have applied legally.

“Obviously, we’d like to see it done more quickly,” said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supports a path to citizenship. “But they are sensitive to the fact that it’s a long period of time by reducing the wait for citizenship after you get a green card from five years to three.”

The Senate bill is expected to serve as a template for a potential deal between Congress and the White House. A bipartisan group in the House also is working on a proposal that it plans to release in the next few weeks.

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