January 28, 2013

Senators reach agreement on immigration reform

Erica Werner / The Associated Press

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In an opinion piece published Sunday Jan. 27, 2013 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote that the existing system amounts to "de facto amnesty," and he called for "common-sense reform."

AP

In order to satisfy the concerns of Rubio and other Republicans, the senators are calling for the completion of steps on border security and oversight of those here on visas before taking major steps forward on the path to citizenship.

Even then, those here illegally would have to pass background checks and pay fines and taxes in order to qualify for a "probationary legal status" that would allow them to live and work here — but not qualify for federal benefits — before being able to apply for permanent residency, a critical step toward citizenship. Once they are allowed to apply they would do so behind everyone else already in line for a green card within the current immigration system.

That could be a highly cumbersome process, but how to make it more workable is being left to future negotiations. The senators envision a more streamlined process toward citizenship for immigrants brought here as children, and for agricultural workers.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that the framework agreed on by the senators could provide important protections for illegal immigrants who are exploited by employers and live in "constant fear" over their immigration status.

But the ACLU took issue with the proposal to require employers to use an electronic employment-verification system, calling it "a thinly disguised national ID requirement" that would undermine employees' privacy and lead to discrimination against those "who look or sound 'foreign.'"

The debate will play out at the start of Obama's second term, as he aims to spend the political capital afforded him by his re-election victory on an issue that has eluded past presidents and stymied him during his first term despite his promises to the Latino community to act.

"As the president has made clear for some time, immigration reform is an important priority and he is pleased that progress is being made with bipartisan support," a White House spokesman, Clark Stevens, said in a statement. "At the same time, he will not be satisfied until there is meaningful reform and he will continue to urge Congress to act until that is achieved."

For Republicans, the November elections were a stark schooling on the importance of Latino voters, who voted for Obama over Republican Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent, helping ensure Obama's victory. That led some Republican leaders to conclude that supporting immigration reform with a path to citizenship has become a political imperative.

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