recruit a U.S. citizen for the work; and establishing an agricultural worker
The senators who are expected to support these guiding principles for immigration reform are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado. The Republicans involved in the legislation are John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
"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. Yes, '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 in a statement that covered details of the senators' proposal.
"I have always insisted that any reform plan not include a blanket amnesty and these principles reflect that. I'm also particularly pleased that there is bipartisan support to include the input of border communities," Flake said. "Not only will security be strengthened according to Washington, D.C,. but border communities will have a say as well."
Under the senators' proposal, the undocumented immigrants would have to pass background checks and pay fines and taxes in order to qualify for a probationary legal status that would allow them to live and work here. And they could not qualify for federal benefits, including health care, before being able to apply for permanent residency, the step toward citizenship.
Once they are allowed to apply, they would be allowed to do so only behind everyone else who is already in line for a green card within the current immigration system.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said "I am very encouraged by the bipartisan framework that has been unveiled in the Senate to modernize our broken immigration system. Reform is long overdue. The proposal contains the elements necessary to overhaul the system, including securing our borders, a roadmap to earned citizenship and employment verification to hold employers accountable.
"I'm also pleased that it would provide further certainty for DREAMers and recognizes the importance of workforce stability within the agriculture industry. As a border state, this is good news for New Mexico," Udall said in a statement. "I look forward to reviewing the details of this legislation as it takes form and working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to give this issue the attention it deserves."
Besides politicians and advocates, religious leaders across the United States had called on Congress to adopt immigration reform.
In a statement, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, "The senators have introduced principles for a bill that has a true chance of passing. I think they sense this is a real opportunity. Not only should we be encouraged but we should understand that this is truly what St. Paul would call a 'kairos,' or propitious, moment to be seized. The momentum needs to be used to pass significant and helpful immigration reform."
Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Farm Workers Center, which assists migrant agricultural workers in the region, and Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, a coalition of advocacy organizations, said they are glad to see U.S. lawmakers embark on immigration reform, but are troubled by some aspects of the senators' proposal.
"The Border Network recognizes this as a first and very important step to address the core issue of immigration reform, which is providing a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people living and working in the U.S.," said Garcia, who's unrelated to Ruben Garcia of the Annunciation House. "But we cannot ignore the problems within these principles. We are deeply concerned and disappointed that the senators would connect the much-needed legalization program to new border enforcement triggers and further militarization of our southern border."
The bipartisan proposal, Garcia said, calls for the deployment of more drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), more Border Patrol agents, more infrastructure and military technology, and for national, mandatory E-Verify, which would be very close to a national ID.
Marentes said he is concerned about the U.S. government might come up with a new "bracero-type" program for migrant farm workers that will permit employers to exploit them at will.
"We don't know what safeguards will be extended from this legislation to farmworkers," Marentes said.
"The new legislation, as proposed, is very different from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. I just can't see how you can end up with a just and humane law as long as immigration reform is being linked to the issue of national security."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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