Senators Unveil Bipartisan Blueprint for Immigration Reform

January 28, 2013

The US Capitol Dome is seen in the distance as American flags fly on the National Mall around the base of the Washington Monument, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington. The federal government remains partially shut down and faces a first-ever default between Oct. 17 and the end of the month. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Watch Lost In Detention, FRONTLINE and the Investigative Reporting Workshop’s exploration of the Obama administration’s get-tough immigration policy.

A bipartisan group of senators announced a blueprint for overhauling the country’s broken immigration system today that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

But the senators say the path to citizenship is “contingent” upon success in securing borders and addressing visa overstay. It would create a commission of “governors, attorneys general and community leaders living along the Southwest border” to assess that success before undocumented immigrants can earn green card status, leading some to caution that the route to citizenship hinges on who makes up the commission and their criterion for measuring success.

The proposal also calls for greater surveillance along the border, an exit tracking system, a “fast and reliable” employment verification system and a guest worker program of sorts that some have called vague.

The plan makes exceptions for agricultural workers and children, who would have a faster path to citizenship, while immigrants who receive a PhD or master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university would be awarded green card status automatically.

The proposed compromise came about from a months-long process led by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The senators timed their announcement for the day before President Obama is scheduled to outline his proposal for immigration reform in order to give his speech more “oomph,” a source told CNN. The plan appears to include more strict enforcement and a less direct path for citizenship than a 2011 blueprint the president was considering, according to The New York Times. 

President Obama has repeatedly emphasized immigration reform as a top priority for his second term. A previous bipartisan effort for immigration reform fell apart in 2010, but the outcome of the 2012 elections has spurred movement on the issue. “Look at the last election,” said Sen. McCain on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours.”

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