US & Canada

Immigration reform: US senators in bipartisan deal

A bipartisan group of US senators has unveiled a plan 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 proposals a day before President Barack 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 bipartisan group's blueprint could pass the Senate by late spring or summer.

But many conservative lawmakers 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.

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

Senator Graham said he hoped the plan would be strongly supported in the Senate - improving its chances of approval in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

He warned: "If for some reason we fail in our efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, I do believe it will be many years before anyone is willing to try and solve this problem."

But Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said any bill on the critical issue of immigration would need to be written after wider consultation.

"This effort is too important to be written in a back room and sent to the floor with a take-it-or-leave it approach," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Representative Lamar Smith, formerly chairman of the House Judicial Committee, said: "When you legalise those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration."

White House press secretary Jay Carney said of the bipartisan group's proposal: "We welcome this. We think this is positive."

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

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