President Obama's administration drafted legislation this month that could give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship in eight years, require employers to check workers' immigration status and increase penalties for those who break immigration law.
The ideas appear in three separate draft bills, obtained Monday by The Miami Herald, that closely resemble many of the reforms advanced in 2011 by Obama and, more recently, by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Both Rubio and Obama, for instance, support special pathways to residency for those students and soldiers who were brought illegally to this country as children. In the White House draft legislation, the proposal closely resembles what's known as the DREAM Act.
But in a sign of the politically fragile talks over immigration reform, Rubio reacted with a measure of fury Saturday when the proposals were first reported by USA Today.
"President Obama's leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution," Rubio said in a written statement that mischaracterized the White House's involvement in disseminating the bills.
"The President's bill repeats the failures of past legislation," the statement continued. "It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders, creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally."
Rubio's concerns are more about what's not in the bills: more border security, improved tracking of immigrants who overstay their visas, a guest-worker program and an immigration system that attracts high-skilled workers.
Also the draft bills obtained by The Herald and USA Today show that, contrary to Rubio's concern, the plan wouldn't give illegal immigrants a chance to obtain citizenship before those who lawfully entered the country.
One of the draft bills, labeled "Title II Legalization," explicitly lists a section that says undocumented immigrants applying for legal residency must go to the "BACK OF THE LINE."
That section says an "alien" may not apply to become a lawful permanent resident for eight years or for "30 days after an immigrant visa has become available" for those who lawfully entered or attempted to enter this country.
The eight-year provision was an estimate -- not a hard-and-fast policy proposal -- for how long the lawful-immigrant line-clearing would take, an official said.
The White House insists it didn't leak the draft legislation and doesn't intend to push its proposals because President Obama wants to defer to Rubio and his fellow members of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators hammering out an immigration plan.
Rubio, generally adored by the conservative pundits, has become the most high-profile Republican associated with immigration reform, which has largely failed due to GOP opposition in the past.
White House officials reached out to each of the eight senator's offices, including Rubio's, to soothe nerves and allay any concerns that the president was trying to trump the Senate's efforts.
"We've not proposed anything to Capitol Hill yet," Denis McDonough, Obama's staff chief, said Sunday on ABC's This Week program. "We're going to be ready. We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed."
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