WASHINGTON — As a bipartisan group of eight senators prepared to introduce a plan early next week to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, Senate negotiators have agreed to a cutoff date that could bar hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the path to legalization provided in the legislation.
Illegal immigrants who arrived in the country after Dec. 31, 2011, could be ineligible to apply for legal status — and potentially citizenship — under the new immigration bill, which will provide a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already living in the country illegally.
Every bill that legalizes immigrants has a cutoff date for eligibility, to discourage a surge of people who have heard about potential legislation. Immigration advocates and Democrats in the group had been pushing for the date to be as current as possible — Jan. 1, 2013 — while Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is a member of the group of eight, originally argued for 2008.
The Dec. 31, 2011, deadline represented a compromise, as well as something of a victory for Rubio.
"We understand the need for a cutoff date, but it should be 2013, not 2011," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a pro-immigration group. "The goal of the legislation is to transform a broken immigration system into a legal one. Leaving a few hundred thousand immigrants in limbo is contrary to that goal."
On Friday, one of the final hurdles for the broad legislation was eliminated when farm workers and growers reached a deal after several weeks of stalled talks.
Rubio, whose support will be critical to selling the legislation to reluctant conservatives, has repeatedly called for a transparent process with multiple public hearings. He is now working with the Republican Policy Committee to hold hearings on the immigration legislation. An aide to Rubio said he was also reaching out to other senators, including Democrats, to try to find a way to hold additional bipartisan hearings.
As the final details of the plan emerge in advance of its likely rollout on Tuesday, most of the legislative language has been written. The group has agreed on a 13-year path to citizenship (10 years for a green card, and three more for naturalization), a series of border security requirements, an electronic employment verification program, a merit-based program for foreign workers to become legal permanent residents and a plan to clear the backlogs of those immigrants who have applied legally for green cards.