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Immigration reform: Senators' plan draws reaction from both sides

January 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A bipartisan group of senators has reached an agreement on sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation's immigration laws.

The deal, which was announced Monday, covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants already in the U.S. illegally.

"For the first time ever, there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

The eight senators behind the plan are Schumer, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

"We have virtually been going for maybe 25 years without a clear statement about immigration policy. That's unacceptable in this nation of immigrants," said Durbin.

The process of obtaining citizenship won't be easy or short. Under the plan, undocumented immigrants would be required to register with the federal government. Those without a criminal record would be eligible for "probationary legal status" if they pass a background check and pay fines and back taxes. They would then gain legal status to live and work in the U.S., but not receive federal benefits like welfare or Medicaid.

The plan would crack down on businesses that employ undocumented workers, but it would also include a guest worker program.

"It would be a boost to California economy if we can bring a number of people into being stakeholders, taxpayers," said Assemblyman Jeff Gorrell.

The path to citizenship is controversial. Illegal immigrants would go to the end of the line, and it could take decades. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement, "Legalization should be earned, but not unattainable - a process not a punishment."

Groups such as CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, say the path to citizenship shouldn't take that long.

"Adding on to this line means that the immigration system is still broken. We want to fix it," said Charlene Gomez of CHIRLA.

Some conservatives are against an amnesty-type program. Under the new plan there wouldn't be a path to citizenship unless there is stronger border security, something conservative talk show host Tony Katz says needs to done.

"If we're going talk about immigration reform we have to talk about where the problem stems and the problem lies, about who comes into the county illegally," said Katz.

This is a big step forward on an issue that has stalled on Capitol Hill for some time. The senators say the immigration overhaul is long overdue.

Both parties characterized the Senate's document as a broad statement of principles rather than concrete legislative language. But the group is aiming to have an actual piece of legislation ready as early as the end of March.

Immigration reform is high on President Barack Obama's agenda. The president is set to begin his effort with a speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday.


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