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Senate group wraps up work on immigration bill

By Erica Werner

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 11 2013 3:30 p.m. MDT

Significant details of the Senate legislation have already become public, through comments from senators or aides, leaks or statements by outside groups.

The bill is expected to provide a 13-year path to citizenship for people living here illegally, but only after a new southern border security plan is in place, employers have adopted mandatory electronic verification of their workers' legal status and a new electronic entry-exit system is operating at airports and seaports for tracking holders of temporary visas.

It would call for surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico and apprehension of 90 percent of people trying to cross in certain high-risk areas.

Six months from enactment, people living in the U.S. illegally could apply for a provisional legal status, as long as the Department of Homeland Security has developed new plans for border security.

To get the provisional legal status, immigrants would have to pay fees, fines and taxes, undergo a criminal background check and meet some requirements for showing they've been physically present in the country so that recent arrivals would not qualify, Cesar Conda, Rubio's chief of staff, said over Twitter on Thursday. He didn't provide details.

A new visa program for low-skilled workers would ultimately allow up to 200,000 workers per year into the country for jobs as janitors, construction workers, nursing home attendants and other occupations.

Farm workers already here illegally would get a faster path to citizenship than other immigrants, and another new visa program would allow tens of thousands of new workers into the country to labor in the nation's farms, fields and dairies.

A visa program for high-tech workers now capped at 65,000 per year would nearly double, and foreigners getting advanced degrees in math, technology, science and engineering from U.S. institutions would more easily qualify for permanent residence.

A largely voluntary system called E-Verify that employers can use to check their workers' legal status would be expanded and made mandatory for all employers.

Many details, however, are not yet known. In particular, activists are eager to learn the particulars on how much people would have to pay in fees and fines to ultimately get citizenship. They also want to know about possible other requirements, such as a level of English proficiency.

Menendez promised Thursday that the path to citizenship will be attainable for the millions who want it. "It's going to be very doable. I would not sign onto it" if it weren't, he said.

Follow Erica Werner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericawerner

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