WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.
The deal, to be announced at a news conference Monday, also covers border security, non-citizen or “guest” workers and employer verification of immigration status.
Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain, the development heralds the start of what could be the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation’s inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.
President Barack Obama also is committed to enacting comprehensive immigration legislation and will travel to Nevada on Tuesday to lay out his vision, which is expected to overlap in important ways with the Senate effort.
“We welcome this. We think this is positive,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. He said the Senate plan mirrors the principles Obama believes must be included in immigration reform, but wouldn’t say whether Obama would sign any legislation that ultimately emerges.
Passage of legislation by the full Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, but the tallest hurdle could come in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who’ve shown little interest in immigration reform.
Still, with some Republicans chastened by the November elections which demonstrated the importance of Latino voters and their increasing commitment to Democrats, some in the GOP say this time will be different.
“What’s changed, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle — including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle — that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I think the time is right,” McCain said.
Besides McCain, the senators expected to endorse the new principles Monday are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn’t get enough GOP support.
The group claims a notable newcomer in Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate whose conservative bona fides may help smooth the way for support among conservatives wary of anything that smacks of amnesty. In an opinion piece published Sunday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rubio wrote that the existing system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” and he called for “commonsense reform.”
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, the senators will call for accomplishing four goals:
—Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.
—Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.