Senators agree on path to legal status for illegal immigrants
Senators crafting a bipartisan overhaul of immigration laws agree on a path to legal status, aides say, but other hurdles remain.
WASHINGTON — Eight senators who have spent weeks trying to write a bipartisan bill to overhaul immigration laws have privately agreed on the most contentious part of the draft — how to offer legal status to the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
The group’s current draft is largely in line with President Obama’s call to set a pathway to earned citizenship as part of a broader immigration reform package, as well as with recent efforts by prominent Republican lawmakers to resolve an issue that hurt GOP candidates in November’s election.
Though the draft is a long way from becoming law, immigration advocates expressed guarded optimism about a possible breakthrough.
Nine months ago, people would have thought you were nuts to say that four Republicans and four Democrats were working on a way to legalize 11 million people,” said Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the White House. “It’s a Rubik’s Cube, but more sides are matching in color than ever before. That’s significant.”
Still undecided is how long illegal immigrants would need to wait before they could apply for permanent resident status and eventually become citizens. The delay for a green card probably would be 10 years or longer, the aides said.
Also unresolved are such politically charged topics as how many visas to issue to high-tech specialists and other guest workers; how to keep track of when visitors leave the country; and how to pay for more Border Patrol officers, fencing and other security measures in an era of shrinking budgets, the aides said.
In an effort to resolve the issue, negotiators from the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have worked with Senate staffers to set a formula so the number of visas for both high-tech and low-skilled workers can fluctuate. They have agreed that the tally would move up or down based on job demand, unemployment rates and other data.
“We’re really trying to fill in the details,” said Ana Avendano, an AFL-CIO negotiator.