WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of eight prominent senators Monday laid out an ambitious overhaul of the nation’s patchwork immigration system that would balance tougher border enforcement with creating a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and new opportunities for seasonal farmworkers to gain legal status.
The senators beat President Barack Obama to the punch, scrambling to unveil their plan a day before Obama was scheduled to outline his own proposal in Nevada.
While only in his first term, the star of the senators’ group was Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of political refugees from Fidel Castro.
“I am clearly new to this issue in terms of the Senate,” Rubio told reporters. “I’m not new in terms of my life. I live surrounded by immigrants. My neighbors are immigrants. I married into a family of immigrants. I see immigration every single day. I see the good of immigration. I see how important it is for our future.”
The high-powered group also included the second- and third-ranked Senate Democrats, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, along with 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolinian with a reputation as a maverick willing to work across party lines on tough issues. Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, also of Cuban descent, and Michael Bennet of Colorado joined the group, as did Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, just starting his first Senate term.
The new bipartisan overhaul plan would allow the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to obtain a green card only after fulfilling a number of requirements: registering with the government; passing a criminal background check; settling back taxes and paying a fine for having entered the United States improperly.
If they met the first standards, undocumented immigrants would get in line behind green card applicants already pursuing legal residency. They would then have to learn English and U.S. civics, show a record of past and current employment, and pass another background check.
The plan has a significant new element that was not part of the 2007 initiative: undocumented farmworkers who “have been performing very important and difficult work to maintain America’s food supply while earning subsistence wages” could earn a path to citizenship through a different and presumably more lenient visa process for agricultural workers.