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Details of bipartisan Senate immigration measure released

April 16, 2013 at 12:12 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, April 16 (UPI) -- A bipartisan group of U.S. senators Tuesday released details of a plan to overhaul an immigration system lawmakers and the president agree needs fixing.

Among other things, the legislation includes language that would grant provisional legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented workers and put them on a path to citizenship, but only after criteria for securing the U.S.-Mexican border are met, The Hill reported.

The so-called Gang of Eight delayed its announcement to explain provisions of the bill because of Monday's deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon but were expected to placed it in the Senate hopper Tuesday.

The measure also set goals for continual surveillance in high-risk areas along the southern border and a 90 percent success rate for stopping crossings in those sectors.

The bill also would fund 3,500 additional customs agents and authorize deployment of the National Guard to the border to erect fencing and boost surveillance systems.

Illegal immigrants wouldn't receive provisional legal status until the Homeland Security secretary submits to Congress a "notice of commencement" attesting to the completion of the bill's border-security goals, The Hill said.

Before immigrants with provisional status could achieve permanent lawful status, the secretary would have to certify a number of border-security provisions were met.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a top Senate critic of comprehensive immigration reform, said Monday he thought the border security requirements were weaker than in legislation debated in 2007.

A Senate aide, also critical of the legislation, explained the bill wouldn't require completion of the border fence but would grant the Homeland Security chief discretion to approve a fencing if necessary, The Hill said.

Among other things, the bill would eliminate the backlog for family and employment-based immigration and create a merit-based visa that would award points to people depending on their education, employment and length of residence in the United States five years after the bill is enacted into law.

Also, the plan would require employers to use the federal government's free, Web-based E-Verify system to check new employees' immigration status.

It would raise the cap on H-1B visas for highly-skilled workers from 65,000 to 110,000 and would allow it to be increased to as high as 180,000, based on a new calculation, The Hill said.

It would create a W-visa program for low-skilled workers as well, and includes language directing wages be the same as those paid to other workers employed, or the prevailing wage level for the occupation in the geographical area, whichever is higher.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., both Gang of Eight members, planned to visit the White House to brief President Obama on the legislation, The Hill reported.

McCain, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and other Republican senators who crafted the measure discussed the bill with members of the Senate Republican Conference Monday night.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has hearings on the bill scheduled for Friday and Monday.

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