A bipartisan group of senators has agreed to an immigration reform framework that includes a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, a significant step toward a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system.
The group of eight senators -- four Democrats and four Republicans -- identified broad ways to address the core issues facing the country's immigration laws in a four-plus page document, which Senate aides provided to ABC/Univision on condition of anonymity.
The principles agreed upon by this "Gang of Eight" include enhancing border security and cracking down on businesses that employ undocumented immigrants. The outline also proposes making it easier for foreigners to come to the United States legally to work or join their families.
The senators behind the framework include John McCain (R-Ariz.), who helped lead a failed reform effort in 2007, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)
"Our legislation acknowledges these realities by finally committing 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 outline states. "We will ensure that this is a successful permanent reform to our immigration system that will not need to be revisited."
The "Gang of Eight" plan provides the most concrete outline yet for immigration reform, but it also leaves many questions unanswered, such as the amount of time the pathway to citizenship would take and how exactly the border would be deemed secure. Those details and others not included in the plan "would all be subject to negotiation," a Senate aide said.
Since last November's election, the senators have met five times in order to flesh out the plan, according to a Senate aide. That election, in which more than seven in 10 Latino voters supported President Barack Obama over his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, served as a tipping point on the issue of immigration, which has stalled on Capitol Hill for some time.
Republicans have generally dismissed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as "amnesty," and President Obama failed to present a comprehensive immigration reform bill during his first term, despite pledging to bring up a proposal during his 2008 campaign. But his re-election might have shaken the political dynamics underlying the immigration issue enough to allow lawmakers to reach an agreement this year.
"First, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it," Menendez said on ABC's "This Week."
Senate staff from both parties characterized the document as a broad statement of principles rather than concrete legislative language, and one aide said that the group aims to have an actual piece of legislation ready as early as the end of March.