Bipartisan group of senators close to deal on immigration plan
A bipartisan group of senators on the verge of a new comprehensive immigration reform bill have tentatively agreed to the stickiest issues, like a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and metrics for securing the border, and is now working on the remaining unresolved detail: how to construct a guest worker program for the future.
A source familiar with the immigration negotiations tells CNN the eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, will hold their final meetings Friday before a two week spring break. The source says they feel confident that they will be ready to unveil the highly anticipated immigration bill early in the week of April 8th, when Congress returns to work.
The big outstanding issue appears to be around the future flow of low skilled guest workers who would come to the U.S. to do jobs such as maids, waiters, hotel workers or homecare workers. They are haggling over how much they would be paid, and how many worker would be allowed into the country each year.
Labor unions influencing the talks are arguing for higher pay and fewer workers per year, since they are concerned about the effect guest workers would have on American workers. The Chamber of Commerce is pushing senators for lower pay and high numbers of guest workers per year, since that will help businesses' bottom lines.
When it comes to the explosive issue of a path to citizenship, the source close to the talks tells CNN the senators have virtually agreed to a 13 year path to citizenship for the 11 million or so people currently in America illegally.
According to the tentative agreement on this issue, it would take 10 years for illegal workers to get a green card to work legally in the U.S. and then an additional three years to move towards citizenship. Illegal workers would have to pay a fine, back taxes, and have no criminal record.
The overall amount of time on the path to citizenship, 13 years, is the same as what the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ and others agreed to in their ill fated bipartisan proposal six years ago.
The difference, however, is that plan proposed a waiting time of eight years to get a green card, and five more years to get to citizenship.
As for the current talks, the so-called Gang of Eight agreed that no illegal worker would be eligible for citizenship until the border is deemed secure -- and figuring out how to measure that has been a big part of bipartisan negotiations.
CNN is told that the senators have settled on the concept of a border commission -- a group of people tasked with determining that the border is secure, based on a set of quantifiable criteria laid out in the proposal. The commission would be made up of officials named by state and federal leaders.
Senators involved in the immigration talks include: Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.