A bipartisan group of senators on Monday unveiled what they call comprehensive immigration reform. The plan that would first increase border security, then offer a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, many of whom have lived and worked here for years.
The lawmakers are calling for three major changes:
1. Securing the border
2. Creating an effective employment verification system
3. Creating a guest worker program for low-skilled workers and those with advanced degrees.
"It has the basics, basics we insist on," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "Strengthen border security with the best technology using enforcement resources for the most security threats. Second, require employers to verify that all their employees are legal and make sure there's a means of verification that is quick and accurate. Third, illegal immigrants already in the United States will be given their chance to earn their way to citizenship."
The most controversial aspect of the plan, particularly for Republicans, is a proposed path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. But following the November election, when 71 percent of Latino voters supported President Obama, some on the right are opening up to the idea.
"I'll give you a little straight talk," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons, and we've got to understand that."
One of the key senators involved is Florida Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio. The group's plan adheres closely to Rubio's ideas, including tougher border security and workplace enforcement measures before a pathway to citizenship is created.
"There are 11 million human beings that are in this country today that are undocumented," Rubio said. "That's not something anyone is happy about or wanted to see happen, but it is what has happened, and we have an obligation and the need to address the reality of the situation that we face and address it in a way that is fair to the people who are doing it the right way -- in essence the hundreds of people who come to our offices every year whose relatives from all over Latin America and around the world are waiting to come here -- we have to be fair to them."
Rubio stressed that the U.S. also has to be sure "we don't do anything which encourages people to come here illegally in the future."
"But by the same token we are dealing with 11 million human beings who are here undocumented, the vast and enormous majority of whom have come here in pursuit of what all of us would recognize as the American dream," Rubio said.
President Obama is slated to lay out his vision on immigration reform in Nevada on Tuesday. His plan is expected to have much in common with the Senate agreement.