DENVER — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is among a bipartisan group of eight senators that have reached an agreement on a comprehensive immigration overhaul, Bennet’s office confirmed to FOX31 Denver Sunday night.
The deal, first reported by POLITICO Sunday night, would include a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants after the country takes initial action to improve border security and to do more to ensure that immigrants aren’t overstaying their visas.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to outline his own plan for comprehensive immigration reform on Tuesday in Nevada; but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the president supports the Senate plan.
Laying down its own marker first, this new “Gang of Eight” held its own press conference in Washington, DC Monday to outline the specific components of the plan.
“We believe this will be the year Congress finally gets immigration done,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY. “The politics on this issue have been turned upside down. For the first time, there’s more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it.”
Bennet, who just took on an extremely partisan job as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, did not attend the press conference but continues to burnish his credentials as a moderate on Capitol Hill.
He is now part of an informal group that includes some of the most influential members of the Democratic Senate caucus: Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois; Schumer, the No. 3 in the leadership; and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey who is set to be the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The four Republicans involved in drawing up the immigration compromise are also heavy hitters: Sen. John McCain of Arizona; Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising GOP star and possible future presidential candidate.
While a number of conservative Republicans have long opposed any path to citizenship as “amnesty”, GOP leaders have acknowledged the need to address immigration reform in a bipartisan manner following an election in which Latino voters overwhelmingly supported President Obama and Democratic candidates generally.
“I think they understand the message in this last election was loud and clear,” said KBNO radio host Fernando Sergio on Monday. “There is a certain sense of political survival. I think Marco Rubio understands that and he’s taking the lead; and many who might have said no for a long time, I think have finally seen the light.”
The plan proposed by the Gang of Eight would require undocumented people to register with the government: they’ll have to pass a background check, pay a fine and back taxes in order to earn probationary status and work legally in the U.S.
Individuals with a criminal background will not be eligible for legal status and subject to immediate deportation.
Conversely, those immigrants who were brought here by their parents would not face the same strict requirements in order to earn a path to citizenship.
The proposal also aims to make it easier for people to come to the U.S. legally and will award green cards to immigrants with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university — something Bennet proposed in 2011 and fought to include in this immigration package.
Additionally, the proposal would strengthen employment verification efforts to hold businesses accountable for hiring unauthorized workers.
“This is the first step in what will be difficult, but achievable,” said Sen. McCain, who, in supporting this package, is taking the president’s side on a prominent piece of legislation for the first time.
At Monday’s press conference, lawmakers said their goal was to make immigration reform law by late Spring or early Summer.