WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) -- Senators developing a bipartisan immigration reform bill say they've agreed on how to give legal status to the 11 million illegal immigrants already in America.
An aide said the bill would require illegal immigrants to register with the Department of Homeland Security, file federal income taxes, pay an as-yet undetermined fine and have a clean law enforcement record, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.
Once they have probationary legal status, immigrants would be allowed to work but would be barred from getting federal public benefits, including food stamps, family cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance, the aide said.
The Gang of Eight's draft largely aligns with President Barack Obama's call that a path to earned citizenship be part of an immigration reform package.
Immigration advocates expressed guarded optimism about a possible breakthrough.
"Nine months ago, people would have thought you were nuts to say that four Republicans and four Democrats were working on a way to legalize 11 million people," Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, told the Tribune.
The length of time illegal immigrants would have to wait before they could apply for permanent resident status and eventually become citizens is still up in the air, the Tribune said.
The delay for permanent resident status likely could be at least 10 years, aides said.
Also unresolved are such issues such as the number of visas that should be issued to high-tech and other guest workers, how to track visitors' departure, and how to pay for more border patrol officers, fencing and other security measures, the aides said.
The bipartisan group had hoped to have a finished bill available for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee before the Senate takes its Easter recess March 22.
However, aides told the Tribune that remaining issues require more technical advice and cost estimates that could delay delivery until early April.
Members of the group are Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrats Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
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