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Immigration reform: US senators in bipartisan deal

A bipartisan group of US senators has unveiled a bill for sweeping reform of the immigration system this year.

The framework calls for a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, while tightening border security.

The eight senators promoted their plan a day before President Obama presents his own blueprint.

Correspondents say conservatives’ hard line on immigration has become an electoral liability for Republicans.

In last November’s elections, President Obama, a Democrat, won more than 70% of the Hispanic vote.

‘Time is right’

Senator Charles Schumer of New York told Monday’s news conference he hoped the group’s proposal could pass the Senate by late spring or summer.

However, the bipartisan group’s blueprint could face stiff opposition in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Many lawmakers there denounce a path to legalisation for undocumented immigrants as an “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona told the news conference the reform would be “very difficult, but achievable”.

On the undocumented migrants, he said: “We, the American people, have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve us food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great.

“I think everyone here agrees that it is not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows. Let’s create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debt to society and fulfil the necessary requirements to become law-abiding citizens of this country.”

Sen McCain has previously backed a pathway to citizenship against his party line.

The other six senators are Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

In addition to a path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship, they call for measures to strengthen border security and to speed the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the US as children.

Senators’ immigration plan

  • Path to citizenship for immigrants already in US illegally
  • Increased border security and tracking of visitor and other visas
  • Reducing visa backlogs and awarding resident green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in certain subjects from US universities
  • A verification system to prevent firms from hiring illegal immigrants
  • Allowing employers to hire immigrants if they cannot recruit US citizens, including an agricultural worker programme

It will include a system to track departures from the US of visitors on tourist, student and other temporary visas.

President Obama is expected to travel on Tuesday to Las Vegas to lay out his own immigration-reform vision, which is expected to be similar to that of the senators.

In a statement, White House spokesman Clark Stevens said Mr Obama was “pleased that progress is being made with bipartisan support”.

“At the same time, he will not be satisfied until there is meaningful reform and he will continue to urge Congress to act until that is achieved,” he added.

Previous efforts to overhaul the immigration system failed in the Senate in 2006 and 2007.

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