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Senators unveil U.S. plans for immigrants

AFP-JIJI

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers laid out an immigration reform proposal Tuesday that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of people who are in the country illegally.

The most ambitious immigration reform in a quarter century has been a key focus of President Barack Obama’s second term, while Republicans smarting from last year’s election defeat have sought to broaden their outreach to minorities, particularly the large Hispanic community.

“This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me,” Obama said in a statement.

The new bipartisan proposal would help bring out of the shadows around 11.5 million people — a majority of whom are Mexican — who live and work in the United States without legal documentation. They would get a legal temporary status and could work, travel and drive without fear of deportation.

But to convince hardline Republicans opposed to the idea of amnesty for those they consider criminals, the Senate negotiators — four Democrats and four Republicans — included ambitious measures to tighten security along the 3,000-km border with Mexico.

The lawmakers want to set a benchmark of halting 90 percent of the flow of immigrants crossing the border illicitly in “high risk sectors.” A $4.5 billion budget would be dedicated to building “double-layer fencing” in some spots and for new surveillance technology, including unmanned drones.

Employers would be required to verify, using a new federal database, the legal status of all their workers. And to be eligible for amnesty, potential immigrants would need to have arrived, and lived continuously, in the U.S. since December 31, 2011; to pay a fine of at least $500 and any past due taxes; and to have a clean criminal record, with a maximum of two misdemeanor convictions.

After 10 years, the immigrants could file for a green card, or permanent residency. Three years after that, they could request citizenship. Those who crossed the border as children could get residency after just five years. The other major component aims to address the shortage of skilled workers in certain professions — especially high-tech industries. The number of “H-1B” visas, for instance, would rise from 65,000 to 110,000 a year, and could go as high as 180,000 if demand continues to grow.