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US senators unveil bipartisan immigration reform proposal

[JURIST] Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) [official websites] on Thursday unveiled [WP op-ed] their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. The plan entails four principal tenets: improving border security, creating a system through which temporary workers would be admitted, introducing biometric identification cards, and instituting a process to legalize illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] currently residing within the US. Undocumented immigrants would receive legal status upon paying back taxes and fines, submitting to background checks, completing an English proficiency examination, and performing community service. All job-seeking US citizens and legal immigrants would be issued a tamper-proof Social Security card containing biometric identification information, which potential employers would use to confirm an applicant's identity and employment eligibility. Additionally, immigrants earning an advanced science, engineering, technology, or math degree from a US institution would receive green cards. The senators underscored the need for swift action, saying:

Our immigration system is badly broken. Although our borders have become far more secure in recent years, too many people seeking illegal entry get through. We have no way to track whether the millions who enter the United States on valid visas each year leave when they are supposed to. And employers are burdened by a complicated system for verifying workers' immigration status.

The proposal was met with praise [press release] from President Barack Obama, who encouraged the senators to draft corresponding legislation.

The Office of Immigration Statistics of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] in February estimating that the total number of illegal immigrants living in the US fell to 10.8 million during the year ending in January 2009, a seven percent decline from the previous year. In December, Democratic lawmakers introduced an immigration reform bill [JURIST report] in the US House of Representatives [official website] that would give undocumented immigrants an easier path to seek legal status in the country. The proposed legislation, titled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) [bill summary, PDF], follows the Obama administration's announcement [JURIST report] that it would seek immigration reform early in 2010. In November, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] said that the proposed reform legislation would be a "three-legged stool" that combines effective and fair enforcement, an improved process for legal immigration, and a "firm but fair way" to deal with illegal immigrants who are already in the US. The proposed bill is also the first attempt at immigration reform since the failed [JURIST report] Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill [S 1639 materials] in 2007. At that time, detractors called the bill too lenient on illegal immigrants and said that by granting legal status to illegal aliens, the US was granting "amnesty."

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