WASHINGTON -- A key group of senators from both parties will unveil Monday the framework of a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, including a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.
The detailed, four-page statement of principles will carry the signatures of four Republicans and four Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a bipartisan push that would have been unimaginable only months ago on one of the country's most emotionally divisive issues.
The document is intended to provide guideposts that would allow legislation to be drafted by the end of March, including a potentially controversial "tough but fair" route to citizenship for those now living in the country illegally.
It would allow undocumented immigrants with otherwise clean criminal records to quickly achieve probationary legal residency after paying a fine and back taxes.
But they could pursue full citizenship -- giving them the right to vote and access to government benefits -- only after new measures are in place to prevent a future influx of illegal immigrants.
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Those would include additional border security, a new program to help employers verify the legal status of their employees and more-stringent checks to prevent immigrants from overstaying visas.
And those undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship would be required to go to the end of the waiting list to get a green card that would allow permanent residency and eventual citizenship, behind those who had already legally applied at the time of the law's enactment.
The goal is to balance a fervent desire by advocates and many Democrats to allow illegal immigrants to emerge from society's shadows without fear of deportation with a concern held by many Republicans that doing so would only encourage more illegal immigration.
"We will ensure that this is a successful permanent reform to our immigration system that will not need to be revisited," the group asserts in its statement of principles.
The framework identifies two groups as deserving of special consideration for a separate and potentially speedier pathway to full citizenship: young people who were brought to the country illegally as minors and agricultural workers whose labor, often at subsistence wages, has long been critical to the nation's food supply.
It also addresses the need to expand available visas for high-tech workers and promises to make green cards available for those who pursue graduate education in certain fields in the United States.