WASHINGTON — Arizona’s two senators joined six others this week to unveil a bipartisan “tough, but fair” plan for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for some people now here illegally.
The proposal also calls for strengthening the border, improving the legal immigration system, creating a stronger employment verification system and making it easier for certain workers to get jobs here.
“We cannot continue as a nation with 11 million people living in the shadows,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the eight from both parties backing the plan.
“We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawns, serve our food, clean our homes, even watch our children, while not affording them any of the benefits that makes our country so great,” McCain said.
At a news conference on Capitol Hill Monday, five of the eight laid out the plan, which they said will become the basis for legislation. They hope to have a bill passed this year.
The senators said that the most controversial aspect of the proposal calls for a path to citizenship to let immigrants already here apply for citizenship. They would have to pass a background check, pay back taxes and a penalty, learn English and demonstrate current and past employment in the United States, among other requirements.
While the details of a bill still need to be worked out, the senators said they felt they had a better chance of getting comprehensive reform passed this year because the political climate has shifted.
“While there are still many details to be worked out, I recognize that in order to address the many facets of immigration reform, it’s going to take a bipartisan commitment,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said in a prepared statement.
“‘The devil’s in the details,’ and not everyone is going to like everything, but sitting idly by is not a responsible approach,” Flake said.
Flake was right on one thing: Not everyone liked everything in the proposal in initial reactions Monday.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was unimpressed by the proposed path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country.
“There are a few hoops that people are going to have to jump through, but in the end they get to stay, they get to work and they eventually get citizenship,” Mehlman said. “It’s still a reward for having broken the law, they are still far better off than people who have played by the rules.”
He said that reform is not just about protecting the border, but also trying to convince people to not come across in the first place.
Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said he was happy that the framework addresses the legalization for immigrants currently in the country, but disappointed that it links that path to stronger border defense. Pastor said that while both issues need to be dealt with, they are separate issues and any reform needs to deal first with the people who are here now.
But Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and civic engagement for National Council of La Raza, said a bill must look at both immigrants in the country and border security, because the two are so tightly intertwined.