Senators Agree On Immigration Overhaul

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WASHINGTON, (UPI) —  A bipartisan group of U.S. senators say they have agreed on an immigration plan that could be the basis for overhauling the system this year.

The Senate proposal, drafted behind closed doors for several weeks by leading senators from both parties, would grant legal status to most of the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. The Times received a copy of the proposal.

The eight senators involved in developing the plan said they intend to release their proposal Monday.

The Senate plan is more conservative than the proposal President Obama intends to reveal Tuesday, the Times said, but its language for legalizing millions of illegal immigrants goes beyond measures that didn’t advance in Congress in previous years.

The Senate proposal would allow most of the undocumented immigrants in the country to obtain probationary legal status immediately by paying a fine and back taxes, as well as passing a background check, the Times said. Probationary legal status would make them eligible to work and live in the United States, and even earn a green card — permanent residency — after the government certifies the U.S.-Mexican border has become secure. Those eligible under this scenario might face a lengthy citizenship process.

Obama is expected to seek a faster citizenship process not tied to border security standards being met first, the Times said. Other, less controversial provisions would tighten requirements on employer verification of new workers’ immigration status; increase the number of visas for high skilled jobs; automatically provide green cards to people earning master’s degrees or doctorates in science, technology or math at U.S. universities, and create an agricultural guest-worker program.

The senators involved said they hope to begin voting in committee on an immigration proposal as soon as March.

Latino activists and other advocates for immigration reform have pushed for quick action in the Senate, saying they hope a bipartisan vote for a bill that includes a path to citizenship would pressure the House where many members of the Republican majority represent districts in which such proposals are unpopular. However, many Republicans also are concerned about political fallout if the party is blamed for blocking immigration reform.

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