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'Gang of Eight' unveils bipartisan immigration plan

Associated Press

The Politico headline read, "Senate group reaches immigration deal." Noting the work of four Senate Democrats and four Senate Republicans -- the so-called "Gang of Eight" -- the piece explained that the lawmakers had finally hammered out a compromise plan to overhaul existing federal immigration laws.

That was nearly three months ago. Since then, every week or so, we'd hear from a member of the "gang" that the comprehensive package was "nearly done," "set to be unveiled," and "basically finished." But it soon resembled a legislative Zeno's paradox -- we were always just on the cusp of a deal, but the destination was always just out of reach.

Today, that ends. In light of the bombings in Boston and senators' desire to be sensitive to the casualties, there will be no big press roll out of the comprehensive immigration reform plan, but the proposal is finished.

Millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States could earn a chance at citizenship under a sweeping Senate proposal to be released Tuesday that would represent the most ambitious overhaul of the nation's immigration system in three decades.

The highly anticipated proposal from an eight-member bipartisan group also aims to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country by creating tens of thousands of new visas for foreign workers in low-skilled jobs, according to a 17-page summary of the bill obtained by The Washington Post.

In addition, billions of dollars would be invested in new border-control measures, including surveillance drones, security fencing and 3,500 additional federal agents charged with apprehending people attempting to enter illegally from Mexico.

A lingering point of contention has been over the possible inclusion of enforcement "triggers" -- some on the right, including "gang" member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), had talked about putting much of the proposal law on hold, even after it becomes law, until the enforcement parts of the bill that Republicans like have been fully implemented and proven effective.

The good news is, this sticking point has been resolved in a constructive way.

As NBC Latino explained:

Despite the insistence of tying a path to citizenship to border security , the bill does not use triggers, but instead establishes border security "goals."

Good. As far as the White House was concerned, putting progressive goals of reform on hold indefinitely was a non-starter anyway.

Other highlights of the proposal:

* Undocumented immigrants earn provisional legal status when the Homeland Security secretary submits to Congress a notice that the border security and fencing strategies have begun and are operational, and that an employment verification system is up and running. Congress will appropriate a combined $4.5 billion for the border-security and fencing strategies.

* If a 90% effectiveness rate (in apprehensions and turn-backs in high-traffic border crossings) has been reached five years after the legislation is enacted, the border security goal has been reached

* If 90% hasn't been reached, a bipartisan Southern Border Security Commission will be created to issue recommendations to reach 90%.

* Undocumented immigrants (who have been in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011) can apply for legal status by paying a penalty (up to $1,000) and pay all fees and taxes. Those who are ineligible are those convicted of felonies, of three or more misdemeanors, of offense under foreign law, and voted illegally.

* Immigrants who obtain provisional status can work for any employer and travel outside the U.S.

* After 10 years, those with provisional status can adjust to be a lawful permanent resident (i.e., have a green card) provided they are paying taxes, pay an additional $1,000 fee, work regularly, and demonstrate knowledge of civics and English

* A green-card holder can apply for citizenship three years later -- so the process would be a total of 13 years from undocumented immigrant to applicant for citizenship.