Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appeared on seven talk shows Sunday to outline his immigration overhaul plan. / Susan Walsh, AP
WASHINGTON -- After more than two months of pain-staking negotiations behind closed doors, a bipartisan group of senators are ready to unveil their sweeping proposal Tuesday that would fundamentally alter the nation's immigration laws for the first time in a generation.
Members of the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight that have been crafting the bill took to the airwaves Sunday to begin selling the plan, and are scheduled to publicly unveil the 1,000-plus page bill this week.
"What we're working on is a starting point," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Meet the Press in one of seven appearances he made to begin explaining the bill. "I think it's a very good piece of legislation, but obviously there are 92 other senators who have ideas of their own."
The bill allows unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the U.S. on or before Dec. 31, 2011, to almost immediately apply for temporary legal status that would allow them to live and work in the country.
The focus would then shift to immigration enforcement, as the Department of Homeland Security would be required to monitor 100% of the nation's southwest border with Mexico, and intercept 90% of people trying to cross illegally. Business owners would be required to use the E-Verify system, which lets them check the immigration status of new employees, and the federal government would have to establish a program to identify each time a foreigner enters and exits the country.
If those benchmarks are reached, and after 10 years have passed, unauthorized immigrants could then apply for a green card. If approved, they could then apply for U.S. citizenship three years afterward.
The bill will be scrutinized almost immediately during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled for Wednesday. And with a group of bipartisan members of the House developing their own bill, and the White House developing yet another version of the bill in case Congress moves too slowly, the Senate bill represents just the first step in a long, difficult path that should play out over several months.
Some of those senators wasted no time raising their concerns with the bill. Several GOP senators expressed dismay that the bill would grant the temporary legal status and work visas to unauthorized immigrants before the borders have been deemed secure. That is one of the biggest concerns for Republicans who fear a repeat of the 1986 immigration law, which allowed up to 3 million unauthorized immigrants to become citizens but did not fulfill promises of a secured border.
"So much of it is regaining the public's confidence that the federal government is actually doing its job (on border security)," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on Fox News Sunday. "So until that confidence is restored, on the basis of what the legislation provides, I would have difficulty supporting it."
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