“We have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). He expressed hope that the Senate could pass a bill by late spring or summer.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed that the overhaul would not repeat “the mistakes of 1986,” when, he said, an amnesty program legalized millions of illegal immigrants but created conditions for the illegal entry of many millions more.
The other members of the group behind the proposal are Democrats Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), and Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.).
The White House embraced the immigration proposal Monday but stopped short of pledging President Obama’s signature, noting that legislation on the issue has yet to be drafted.
“It’s a set of principles that mirror the president’s principles,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at Monday’s briefing. The president is expected to present his own proposal at an event in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
The senators’ announcement comes as a bipartisan group of House members is also working on an immigration proposal. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that they “basically have an agreement.”
The Senate group presented its proposal at a packed Capitol Hill news conference attended by dozens of English and foreign-language media outlets.
The group outlined the key balance in its proposed framework: Legalization would be afforded almost immediately to the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, provided they pay back taxes and a fine. But the opportunity to pursue full citizenship would not become available until the border was secured and new systems were in place for employers to verify workers’ immigration status and for the government to ensure that legal immigrants cannot overstay their visas.
The document also calls for tying flows of legal immigration to the nation’s unemployment rate but generally expanding visa programs to discourage people from crossing the border without permission.
“It’s a pretty straightforward principle,” said Rubio, who switched between English and Spanish during the lengthy rollout. “It’s a principle that says we have to modernize our legal immigration system, we have to have a real enforcement mechanism to ensure we’re never here again in the future, and we have to deal with the people that are here now in a way that’s responsible but humane.”
Obstacles on Capitol Hill
Despite being authored by lawmakers of both parties, the proposal could face sharp opposition on Capitol Hill, where the last attempt at an immigration overhaul sank in 2007. Three years later, in the 2010 lame-duck session, legislation that would have provided a path to citizenship for young people who were brought to the country illegally as children fell short of passage in the Senate.