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Senators draft plan to rework U.S. immigration policy

Besides creating a to-be-determined system to regulate the future flow of temporary workers in consultation with labor unions and U.S. business groups, the senators said, their plan would award permanent residency to immigrants who receive advanced degrees from a U.S. university in science, technology, engineering or math.

An improved tamper-proof Social Security card would let employers verify that holders' identity and that they are authorized to work in the United States, based on a machine reader that would confirm an individual's fingerprints or eye scan, the senators said. Border security and enforcement within the nation's borders would be increased.

As in earlier efforts, the senators would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who have not committed felonies, and who admit they broke the law by entering the country illegally, then agree to perform community service, pay fines and back taxes, pass background checks and learn English.

Reaction to the senators' and White House statements fell along predicted lines, with opponents dismissing the plan as an "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, and supporters calling it a necessary but insufficient "first step" to changing the law.

"This so-called comprehensive immigration reform really means amnesty for the 10 to 20 million illegal immigrants in America today. What part of the word 'illegal' doesn't the president understand?" said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, which opposed past legislation and said it seeks a White House invitation to promote its own "bipartisan solutions."

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum and chair of the advocacy group Reform Immigration for America, called the senators' statement "a down payment on the president's promise to put the full weight of the White House behind bipartisan reform legislation." Noorani said Reform Immigration would work "to ensure that 2010 is the year that Congress finally fixes America's long-broken immigration system."

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