An overhaul of the nation’s immigration system being drafted by the White House would allow illegal immigrants to seek permanent legal residency — the first step to citizenship — within eight years, the USA Today reported late Saturday.
The draft bill would allow the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to seek a “lawful prospective immigrant” visa, if they paid fees, submitted biometric information and passed a criminal background check. That would allow them to live and work freely in the country without fear of deportation, as well as to travel for brief time periods out of the country.
In eight years, they could then seek a green card, which would afford them permanent residency if they learned English and paid back taxes. Currently, those who hold a green card for at least five years can then seek citizenship.
An anonymous Obama administration official provided the draft to the USA Today, the newspaper reported. The official indicated the draft is now being circulated among government agencies.
A White House spokesman declined to confirm the details reported by USA Today.
In a statement, the spokesman said the administration has not yet readied a final bill to send to Congress.
"The President has made clear the principles upon which he believes any commonsense immigration reform effort should be based,” said spokesman Clark Stevens. “We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the President has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit.”
A group of eight bipartisan senators in the Senate last month released a framework for an immigration revamp and have been hard at work behind the scenes to translate their blueprint into legislation. They have said they hope to submit legislation in March.
President Obama has praised that effort and said he will give the senators time to write a bill that could win the support of both Republicans and Democrats. But he has said if their effort drags, he will introduce legislation of his own.
“If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away,” he said in Las Vegas last month, as he laid out his own principles for immigration change.
In their framework, the senators agreed that illegal immigrants should be able to quickly seek temporary legal residency. But they also agreed they would not be able to pursue permanent residency until the border is more secure and new measures are in place to improve enforcement of immigration laws.
That delay had concerned some immigration advocates, who have been pushing Democrats and President Obama to make clear they will only accept legislation that includes a path to citizenship within some reasonable time frame.
In a roundtable with Hispanic media earlier this month, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) indicated the Senate group was examining a process that would allow illegal immigrants to seek permanent residency in around 10 years.
Several Congressional aides said they had not seen a White House draft. But on Twitter, a spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate working group, called the draft “DOA” — dead on arrival— because it would not require new enforcement measures to be in place before allowing illegal immigrants to pursue green cards.
The USA Today reported the White House’s draft plan also called for new border control agents, new immigration judges to handle immigration violations. It would require businesses with more than 1,000 employees to adopt an e-Verify system to check the legal status of their workers within two years. Businesses with 250 employees would need the system in three years and all businesses in four years.