A group of eight senators—known as the bipartisan Gang of Eight—on Thursday will kick off the campaign for their immigration reform package, introduced to the president earlier this week. The plan includes a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. that is contingent on tighter border security.
The senators brought together business, labor, religious and political leaders to back a far-reaching plan that incorporates operational apprehension strategies, cleared backlogs, and the implementation of E-Verify work eligibility systems.
“This bill has a real chance because in good part of the courage of the leadership,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said Thursday on Morning Joe. “We have all met in the middle.”
The plan’s path to citizenship would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for provisional legal status as long as they entered the country before Dec. 31, 2011. It also allows immigrants to apply for a green card after 10 years, and after paying a series of fines and back taxes, before applying to be U.S. citizens three years after that.
A bill was introduced but never voted on in the Senate in 2007. Drafting an immigration plan in 2013 is different than any other year because overall American public opinion has changed, Arizona Sen. John McCain said during the interview.
“They did break our laws by coming here illegally, but the fact is that now it’s time to give them a legal status and an opportunity—a tough opportunity—but an opportunity to become citizens of this country,” he said. “It gives them the chance to live in a free and open society with a long and difficult path to citizenship. But at least it brings them out of the shadows. It makes them able to become the kind of wonderful citizens that I know the overwhelming majority of them will be.”
In a joint statement, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., along with Schumer and McCain, said the bill was just a “starting point” effort.
The senators planned to roll out the bill on Tuesday, but postponed the introduction because of this week’s tragic events in Boston.