Senators To Introduce Immigration Bill With Path to Citizenship

PHOTO: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, speaks to the media as, from second left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., listen in

Today, a bipartisan group of eight senators will introduce a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that would enforce tough border security measures in exchange for a path to citizenship for many, but not all, undocumented immigrants.

After months of negotiations, the group of four Democrats and four Republicans, known as the "Gang of Eight," put forth a carefully crafted compromise designed to satisfy the left and right. It would allow many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants to seek U.S. citizenship, but only after the federal government implements stricter border security standards and cracks down on employers who hire undocumented workers, according to a 17-page outline of the bill provided by Senate sources to Univision and ABC News.

The bill also makes significant changes to how foreigners can legally immigrate to the United States in the future. These changes are designed to ease the process, especially for those seeking work here.

"This is a very balanced bill," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the lead Democratic negotiator, on ABC's "This Week" last Sunday. "The American people have told us to do two things. One, prevent future flows of illegal immigration, and then come up with a common sense solution for legal immigration. And that's what our bill does."

The "Gang of Eight" had planned to officially roll out the proposal at a Tuesday press conference, but they postponed it out of respect for the victims of Monday's deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon. The senators will formally file the legislation Tuesday night and lawmakers are expected to hold the first of two public hearings on the bill on Friday.

The introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill -- titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 -- represents a major step forward for a cause that has been championed by Latino groups for years and that's one of President Barack Obama's top second-term priorities.

The bill's sponsors hope to attract an overwhelming bipartisan vote for it in the Senate, designed to compel the Republican-controlled House to pass it as well. The Senate plan has the full-throated endorsement of Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising conservative star who helped draft the bill.

But the plan still faces a tough road to passage. It is expected to run into resistance, especially from Republican lawmakers like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who have dismissed it as "amnesty."

Part of that is a response to the fact that the bill would allow undocumented immigrants a way to become American citizens for the first time in more than three decades. Not that it's going to be easy or cheap.

Several border security hurdles must also be cleared before undocumented immigrants can complete the path to citizenship. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to submit to Congress within six months of its passage plans to achieve unprecedented levels of border security. This includes preventing illegal border crossings and fortifying the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

After those plans are submitted, undocumented immigrants could begin to apply for provisional legal status ("Registered Provisional Immigrant Status," or RPI), the first step on the path to citizenship. Although it's important to note that undocumented immigrants who arrived after Dec. 31, 2011 would be barred from applying, a cutoff date that could prevent thousands from being legalized.

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