A core group of Democratic and Republican senators see a chance to pass far-reaching immigration reform this year, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet told about 50 people at the Latino Chamber of Commerce early Friday.
"It's the best opportunity in a generation," the Democratic senator told an audience that included several dozen Hispanic students from Pueblo and as far away as Manzanola.
The reforms that Bennet and a bipartisan group of senators are drafting would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the nation. Those people could become legal residents as soon as they've passed a criminal background check and paid owed taxes and fines.
Bennet said immigration reform was stalled in partisan gridlock until President Barack Obama was re-elected last November with strong Hispanic support.
That energized prominent Republicans such as Sens. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, to call for the GOP to help those 11 million undocumented people legalize their residency.
Bennet, Rubio and Graham are part of a "gang of eight" senators working to craft a bipartisan package. The others in the group are Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Jeff Flake, RAriz.; and John McCain, R-Ariz.
One man at Friday's meeting said it was unrealistic to require undocumented workers to estimate and pay owed taxes and fines.
"Wouldn't it be easier to just say, it's going to cost $1,000 or $5,000 to apply (for citizenship)?" he said.
Bennet agreed with several speakers that young undocumented people, who were brought to the U.S. by parents, should be able to stay in school or college and have faster access to citizenship.
Bennet said an important part of the bipartisan effort was a declaration that immigration policy is a federal, not state concern.
"We don't want 50 states imposing 50 different immigration regimes on the public," he said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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