Bipartisan immigration bill officially filed; criticisms coming from left and right

By Erica Werner

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 17 2013 9:04 a.m. MDT

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., talk to the media outside the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, following a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss immigration.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — To some conservatives, it's amnesty.

To some immigration advocates, it's unnecessarily punitive.

The Senate's new bipartisan immigration bill drew criticism from the right and from the left Tuesday — convincing members of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that wrote it that they're on the right track.

"This has something for everybody to hate," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., "No one gets everything they want."

Schumer and another leader of the effort, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday to brief him on the bill, a top second-term priority for the president. Obama issued a statement after the meeting supporting the Senate effort and urging action.

"This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me. But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform," Obama said. "I urge the Senate to quickly move this bill forward and, as I told Sens. Schumer and McCain, I stand willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible."

The legislation would dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system, ushering in new visa programs for low- and high-skilled workers, requiring a tough new focus on border security, instituting a new requirement for all employers to check the legal status of their workers, and installing a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The U.S. immigration system would shift from emphasizing family ties to U.S. citizens or permanent residents in determining who can come to this country, to putting a much bigger focus on their skills or employment opportunities. People who've been deported would have the opportunity to come back to the U.S. if their spouses or children are in the country.

Schumer appeared on the Senate floor around 2 a.m. Wednesday to file the 844-page bill. But a press event to roll the bill out was delayed until later in the week after the bombings at the Boston marathon. Nonetheless, outside groups and other senators already had plenty to say.

To some on the left, the details of the path to citizenship were emerging as a concern. It would take 13 years, the first 10 of those in a provisional legal status during which immigrants would not have access to federal benefits. Immigrants would have to pay $2,000 in fines plus hundreds more in fees, and outstanding taxes. No one with a felony conviction or more than three misdemeanors would be eligible, and no one who entered the country after Dec. 31, 2011, could apply.

"The proposed legislation falls short by placing unnecessary obstacles and delays in the path to citizenship and could unfairly exclude some of the 11 million aspiring Americans who are our neighbors, friends, family and fellow-worshippers," said Bishop Ricardo McClin, pastor of the Church of God Restoration in Kissimmee, Fla., and a member of PICO National Network, a faith-based organizing network. "PICO will be pressing for changes to make sure that the path to citizenship is real for the families in our congregations."

The path to citizenship also is contingent on various border security "triggers" first being met, an approach Obama administration officials and others have criticized.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., defended the approach, which was sought by Republicans.

"Let me just tell you something. This was the price that Democrats had to pay to make this a bipartisan bill. And it's not too high a price," Durbin said.

On the other side, some Republicans were claiming that the bill amounted to a grant of amnesty for people in the country illegally, while opening a floodgate to immigration that could drive down wages for U.S. workers.

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