A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a conditional path to citizenship, according to a Senate aide.
A memo provided to National Journal shows that the group's plan includes reforms to the legal immigration system based upon the needs of the economy, creation of a strong employment verification system, and an improved process for admitting future workers. The plan will be announced Monday, an aide said.
The group that has signed onto the document includes four Democrats and four Republicans: Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. They represent a mix of lawmakers who have worked on the issue for many years and newer faces.
Behind-the-scenes discussions have been taking place with different iterations of the group since the November elections. They had planned to release their principles by Feb. 1, but the accelerated deadline means they will go public ahead of a speech by President Obama in Las Vegas on Tuesday that will address immigration reform. They hope to have a bill by the end of March.
According to the memo, the group will write legislation that evaluates and strengthens border security with more resources, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and agents, while simultaneously requiring undocumented residents to register with the government. Once they pass a background check, pay a fine and back taxes, they can earn probationary legal status to live and work in legally in the country. They will not be allowed to access federal benefits during this time, and will then be able to go to the back of the line to earn a green card.
"Our purpose is to ensure that no one who has violated America's immigration laws will receive preferential treatment as they relate to those individuals who have complied with the law," the document reads.
Two groups of undocumented immigrants will be exempt from the process: individuals brought to the U.S. as minor children and workers in the agricultural industry. The latter group will "be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population because of the role they play in ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume," the document says. They will be able to earn citizenship through a new agricultural work program.
The framework also says that those brought as minor children will not face the same requirements as other undocumented immigrants, but does not state what the new requirements will be. It does not address the deferred action program Obama announced in 2012.
Reforms to the existing legal immigration system include a renewed focus on the most important areas of the economy but also seek to reduce backlogs in family and employment visa categories. The group will propose that any immigrants who earn a Ph.D. or Master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university will receive a green card.
They will also propose that businesses be allowed to hire lower-skilled workers if they are unable to recruit Americans to fill positions and adjust the flow of immigrant labor to respond to economic conditions. There will be strong labor protections, the framework says.
An employment verification system will provide a fast method for U.S. employers to determine the legal status of their workers that prevents identity theft.