WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators unveiled immigration reform proposals Monday that would allow an estimated 11 million undocumented residents to remain in the country while they pursue a path to citizenship.
The senators' blueprint — released a day before President Barack Obama is scheduled to lay out his own principles for immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas — is similar in its approach to legislation killed in the Senate in 2007.
The senators called for a legal path to citizenship for undocumented workers, contingent upon enhanced border security, and said the current system for legal immigration will be reworked to allow for an orderly flow of immigrants to match employment needs.
The four Republicans in the bipartisan group of eight senators include Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, a former GOP presidential nominee, and Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, considered a potential GOP presidential candidate.
McCain, who worked on the last major overhaul under President George W. Bush, said at a Capitol Hill news conference that passing comprehensive reform would be “difficult but achievable.”
He said the blueprint agreed upon by the eight senators would secure the border, modernize and streamline the current immigration system and create a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for the people here illegally who don't have a criminal record.
“In reality, what has been created is a de facto amnesty,” McCain said. “We, the American people, have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve us food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great … Let's create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debt to society and fulfill the necessary requirements to become law abiding citizens of this country.
“This is consistent with our country's tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said he hoped legislation incorporating the senators' proposals could be passed by early this summer.
Schumer said that the 11 million people now here illegally without a criminal record would have a legal right to stay in the country immediately after passage of the legislation.
However, the senators' outline would require new border security measures before any undocumented workers could pursue a path to citizenship, and those seeking that path would have to get in line behind legal immigrants. The senators said agricultural workers and the children of undocumented residents would have an accelerated process.
McCain said more Republicans may support the effort now because the GOP is “losing the support of our Hispanic citizens” in elections.
Oklahoma's senators were not ready to comment Monday on the proposals. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, strongly opposed the legislation in 2007 and helped block its passage.
Reaction to proposals
Some lawmakers came out against the blueprint, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Sessions said “a large-scale amnesty is likely to add trillions of dollars to the debt over time, accelerate Medicare's and Social Security's slide into insolvency, and put enormous strain on our public assistance programs.
“We know already that the administration refuses to enforce existing law restricting immigrant welfare use, and in fact promotes expanded welfare use to immigrants — including food stamps, public housing and Medicaid.”
The proposals were endorsed by some business and labor leaders, along with some religious organizations that have been pushing for comprehensive reform.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “The senators have introduced principles for a bill that has a true chance of passing. I think they sense this is a real opportunity.”