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February 01, 2013

Bipartisan group of senators, Obama unveil plans to overhaul nation’s immigration system

A bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled a framework for overhauling the nation’s immigration system last month, expressing hope that legislation could be passed by the Senate this summer.

The day after the senators released their “statement of principles,” President Obama outlined his own immigration proposals during a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada, and urged Congress to act on legislation to create a fair and effective immigration system and deal with the 11 million individuals who are in the country illegally. He applauded the bipartisan principles announced in the Senate, saying they “are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years.”

During a Jan. 28 news conference, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bipartisan effort is “a major breakthrough,” and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the introduction of the principles “the first step in what will be a very difficult, but achievable, reform to our immigration system.” Schumer and McCain were joined by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

According to the senators, the bipartisan framework, the first serious attempt for major immigration reform since 2007, commits “the resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current legal immigration system, while creating a tough but fair legalization program for individuals who are currently here.”

The framework consists of the following four basic legislative pillars:

•create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the county when required;

•reform the legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;

•create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and

•establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve the nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

Requirements for the path to citizenship under the senators’ proposal include a background check and payment of fines and back taxes before probationary status may be earned to allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the United States. Strengthening of border enforcement would be required before those on probationary status could receive green cards.

Separate processes would be established for agricultural workers and those who came to the United States as children.

Although the senators and the president agree on many aspects of reform, the president’s proposed path to citizenship is not tied to enhanced border security. He also supports provisions ensuring that all families, including those with same-sex spouses, receive equal treatment under the law.

President Obama urged prompt action in his speech.

“We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate,” he said, cautioning that “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.”

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on immigration reform are scheduled to begin Feb. 13, the day after the president’s State of the Union Message. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Feb. 5 on immigration issues.

The ABA supports comprehensive immigration reform that promotes legal immigration based on family reunification and employment skills and that provides for new legal channels for future workers, a path to legal status for much of the undocumented population currently residing in the United States, and enhanced border security.

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