A bipartisan group of senators on Monday formally unveiled their proposal to drastically overhaul the nation's immigration system, with the hope of passing a bill out of the Senate by late spring or early summer.
"We believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) one of the members of the so-called "Gang of Eight" said during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
Five of the eight members of the group -- Schumer, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- appeared at the press conference intended to outline their immigration proposal. The proposal would provide a path to citizenship for many of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants while upping border security and cracking down on businesses that hire workers who are not legally present in the U.S.
Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) were the members not in attendance.
The senators all expressed optimism that their legislation could pass both the House and the Senate. Schumer added that he hopes to have an actual piece of legislation done by the end of March, and then have the Senate act on it right away.
But while some conservatives have signaled support for the Senate framework, many others have resisted any plan that could grant a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, saying it amounts to amnesty for people who broke the law.
The Senate's plan does not grant undocumented immigrants automatic "amnesty," rather it requires them to go through an arduous process that includes undergoing a background check, paying fines, back taxes and learning English and American civics over the course of a number of years. The new law would grant eligible undocumented immigrants permission to live and work in the U.S. legally, but would not confer permanent legal status, or a green card, until the border is deemed to be secure. Young people brought into the U.S. illegally as minors and some agricultural workers would face an easier path to citizenship.
"We will never put these people on a path to citizenship until we have secured the border," Schumer said.
McCain, who helped lead the last effort on a comprehensive immigration bill in 2007 said, "We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawns, grow our food, clean our homes, and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great."
Senators in both political parties suggested that the reason that some Republicans have had a change of heart was because of the results of last November's election, when seven in 10 Latino voters backed President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney.
"The politics on this issue have been turned upside down," Schumer said. "For the first time ever, there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform, than in supporting it."
Perhaps more than anyone on the stage, McCain understands this. While he backed comprehensive immigration reform five years ago, he backed away from it during his 2010 run for Senate, just as his home state was considering the SB 1070 crackdown law on undocumented immigrants.
McCain went so far as to say that the current plan is a "testimonial" to bill he worked on with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the late liberal icon, in 2007.
Another member of the group, Marco Rubio, had not always voiced support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants during his Senate career. But on Monday, he said that Congress needs to "address the reality" of the massive undocumented population in the U.S.