Senators release blueprint for Obama’s immigration reform

(L) Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (AFP Photo / Mark Wilson)

(L) Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (AFP Photo / Mark Wilson)

A group of bipartisan senators is on Monday announcing an immigration reform plan that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants while also tightening border security.

Eight lawmakers — four of which are Democrats and four of which are Republicans — worked together on this legislation, which addresses issues they have tried to tackle for years. The plan will be unveiled the day before US President Barack Obama gives a speech on immigration in Nevada on Tuesday.

The proposed legislation would allow the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants to register with the government, pay a fine and receive probationary legal status to be able to find employment. This measure would reduce the number of employers illegally hiring immigrants, as well as protect undocumented foreigners from working for less than minimum wage.

Rather than fearing deportation, illegal immigrants could work towards eventual citizenship, even though they would have to “go to the end of the line” and apply for permanent status, reads the document drawn up by the senators.

Immigrants who obtain university degrees in science, math, technology or engineering would be awarded with green cards — an incentive that leads to higher education among immigrants and academic contributions to society.

“Let’s be very clear: having a pathway to earned legalization is an essential element. And I think that we are largely moving in that direction as an agreement,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, in an interview on ABC’s “The Week”.

The eight senators that will endorse these new principles on Monday are Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Charles Schumer of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

While Democrats have primarily advocated for a path to citizenship, Republicans have long been concerned about border security — both of which the new legislation addresses. Borders would be more efficiently guarded and the US government would crack down on those with expired visas and employers who illegally hire undocumented immigrants. All immigrants who apply for a provisional status would also undergo a mandatory background check.

Rather than unlawful employment, the US government would permit hiring immigrants — as long as a company can first prove that it cannot recruit a US citizen.

The proposed legislation is still in its beginning stages, but the senators are hoping for input on border security and expired visas before completing the details of the 5-page document.

The bipartisan collaboration on this measure has sparked discussion about new GOP leniency on immigration. In past elections, Democrats have overwhelmingly won the Hispanic vote, which Republicans have recognized as a problem. In last November’s presidential election, Obama won more than 70 percent of the Latino vote, partially due to conservative opposition to immigration reform.

“What’s changed is, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle — including, maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle — that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” McCain said on ABC’s “This Week”.

“Well, I’ll give you a little straight talk: Look at the last election… We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons,” he added.

The Senate is expected to debate on immigration this spring, after which the House of Representatives will take on the issue. The senators have not decided upon a proposed time period for a provisional status, but will outline their general ideas in a news conference Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET.