WASHINGTON -- Some of the U.S. Senate's most powerful Republicans and Democrats came together today to offer a proposal that would immediately give most undocumented immigrants the right to stay in the country while it tightens borders and creates an employment verification system.
The package balances Democrats' goal of allowing immigrants to come out of society's shadows with Republicans' desire to avoid providing a too-easy path to citizenship that gives foreigners more incentive to enter illegally.
"Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals, but we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "The politics on this issue have been turned upside-down. For the first time ever there's more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it."
The blueprint calls for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who pass criminal background checks, submit fines, pay taxes and learn English and basic American history.
The process to citizenship would not be put into place until borders are more secure, although the legislation would provide immediate amnesty for illegal immigrants already here.
"Once the bill passes people who are here living in the shadows would get a legal right to stay and work," Mr. Schumer said. "They ability to stay here and work and stay in America and not be deported and harassed comes virtually immediately."
That will make it easier for them to learn English and integrate into their communities without fear, he told reporters.
The plan is designed to create starting points for debate expected to occupy Congress in the spring.
Immigration is one of the few major policy areas where there appears to be room for compromise.
The desire to move forward on immigration reform appears inspired, at least in part, by the important role Hispanic voters played in the 2013 election.
"The Republican party is losing support of our Hispanic citizens ... and this is a pre-eminent issue for those citizens," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.
That provides a window of opportunity to reach a compromise.
President Obama is expected to outline his own immigration proposal in a speech today at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
His remarks, according to the White House's announcement of the trip, will focus on "the need to fix our broken immigration system so it is fair and helps grow our middle class and it ensures everyone is playing by the same rules."
Mr. Schumer said the president has indicated he supports the policy outline introduced today.
Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com or 703-996-9292.