8 Senators Unveil a Broad, Bipartisan Plan for Immigration Overhaul

The proposal would benefit students who are in the U.S. illegally and foreign graduates of American colleges

January 28, 2013

[Updated, 1/28/2013, 10:57 p.m.]

A bipartisan group of senators announced on Monday a plan that would ease the path to citizenship for students who are in the United States illegally and would make it easier for some foreign graduates of American universities to remain in the country to work.

The plan, outlined in a document titled a "Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform," deals with border security, employment verification, and legalization alike. Its release comes a day before President Obama is scheduled to offer his own immigration plan at a speech in Las Vegas.

The eight senators who agreed on the plan, dubbed the "Gang of Eight," comprise equal numbers of Democrats (Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Charles E. Schumer of New York) and Republicans (Jeff L. Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, and Marco Rubio of Florida).

The senators' deal, as outlined in the document, would allow illegal immigrants to apply for legal status but would grant them green cards only after every other individual who was waiting for such a card received one. But the plan would create a faster process for students who were brought to the country as children, a group known as "Dreamers," after a long-stalled bill to grant them citizenship.

"Individuals who entered the United States as minor children did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws," the document reads. "Consequently, under our proposal these individuals will not face the same requirements as other individuals in order to earn a path to citizenship."

The plan doesn't say if such students would be eligible for federal student aid, as some versions of the Dream Act have proposed. Congress last considered the bill in 2010, when it failed in the Senate. In June, President Obama announced that young illegal immigrants who had come to the United States as children would no longer be deported and would be eligible to apply for work permits.

The Senate deal would also would grant more green cards to people who have received master's and Ph.D. degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, according to the outline.

"It makes no sense to educate the world's future innovators and entrepreneurs only to ultimately force them to leave the country at the moment they are most able to contribute to our economy," it reads.

It's unclear if a bill based on the proposal would have the votes to pass Congress. Critics, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, have already issued statements denouncing the plan as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. And the proposal is certain to face pushback from some Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Even supporters of the plan are skeptical that it will move quickly. As Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of law at Cornell University put it, the nation's immigration system "took 20 years to get broken; it can't be fixed overnight."

"I doubt immigration-reform legislation will be enacted this year," he said in a written statement, "but I hope I'm wrong."