The senators' announcement comes one day before President Obama will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, to unveil his own immigration reform plan, which also includes an earned pathway to citizenship and many other elements of the Senate plan. The president met with a group of Hispanic Democratic lawmakers to discuss his plan on Friday, and afterward the White House reiterated that the issue remains "a top legislative priority."
Arguably the most significant detail is the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for many of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, but the process of obtaining citizenship is neither easy nor short.
Under the "Gang of Eight" 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. The status would allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., but they would remain ineligible for federal benefits such as welfare of Medicaid.
At the same time, the government would spend more to prevent illegal border crossings in part by increasing the use of unmanned drones and hiring more border agents. It would also implement a new system to prevent people from overstaying their visas, a main source of illegal immigration. Those undocumented immigrants with criminal records would be subject to deportation.
The U.S. government already spends a hefty amount on border security. The nearly $18 billion in federal funds that went toward border and immigration enforcement agencies in fiscal year 2012 topped the total amount spent on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, according to a recent Migration Policy Institute report.
Still, many Republican lawmakers have said they would not support an immigration reform proposal without bolstered border security efforts.
The plan would also establish a committee of governors and other public figures from states along the Southwest border to present a "recommendation regarding when the bill's security measures outlined in the legislation are completed." Once the border is deemed secure, undocumented immigrants on probationary status would be permitted to seek green cards, which provide permanent legal residence and the eventual opportunity to apply for full citizenship.
In order to earn a green card, those with probationary legal status would have to go through a second background check, learn English and American civics, continue to pay taxes, and provide proof of employment. These immigrants would then be sent to the "back of the line," meaning that they would only be eligible for a green card once all others waiting for a green card at the time of the law's passage have obtained one.
This system would not apply to all undocumented immigrants. For example, those brought to the country as minors, also known as DREAMers, "will not face the same requirements as other individuals in order to earn a path to citizenship." Undocumented workers in the agricultural sector would also be eligible for their own path to citizenship "because of the role they play in ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume," the framework says.
The proposal would also make the legal immigration system more attractive by reducing visa backlogs and simplifying the visa process for those seeking to work in the U.S. or reunite with their families.