Senators working on a bipartisan immigration bill are closing in on a deal creating an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, one of the most critical portions of their reform plan.
While details of the bill are still scarce, the Los Angeles Times reports that the plan under discussion is generally similar to President Obama’s proposal in that it would require undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check, pay fines and back taxes, and learn English along the way to eventually applying for a green card and later citizenship. In the interim period before seeking a green card, they would be granted a provisional legal status that allows them to work but not to receive federal benefits.
A draft of White House’s bill, leaked last month, would have likely required undocumented immigrants who qualify to wait at least eight years to apply for a green card and another five years for citizenship. Under the Senate’s plan, the wait for a green card would likely be “10 years or longer,” according to the Times. A framework released in January by the group indicated that young undocumented immigrants and agricultural workers could be put on a separate, expedited path to citizenship.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has staked out a position as the most conservative member of the “Gang of 8” working on a bill, has expressed concerns about granting permanent residency too rapidly, but defended the importance of including citizenship as an attainable end point last week after Jeb Bush attacked the idea in a new book.
“I thought about that issue a lot and [went] back and forth on it before I signed on to my principles and I just concluded that it’s not good for the country in the long term to have millions and millions of people who are forever prohibited from becoming citizens,” Rubio said. “That hasn’t worked out well for Europe.”
While a deal on citizenship would represent a huge step forward for the group, there’s still a long way to go before a final bill is released. Members have singled out talks over a guest worker program as the most difficult remaining issue.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.