President Obama on Tuesday endorsed a plan put forward by a bipartisan group of senators for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system that maps a 13-year pathway to citizenship for almost 11 million undocumented immigrants, saying it is "largely consistent" with his own principles for reform.
"I urge the Senate to quickly move this bill forward and, as I told Senators 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," Obama said in a statement, after meeting two members of the "Gang of Eight," Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
"This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me," the president said. "But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform."
However, hurdles are still expected in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, criticized the bipartisan plan, saying it would encourage even more illegal immigration, favor foreign workers and treat illegal immigrants better than those who have played by the rules, according to Reuters.
Obama, however, said the bill would continue to strengthen security at U.S. borders and hold employers more accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers. "It would provide a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are already in this country illegally," he said. "And it would modernize our legal immigration system so that we're able to reunite families and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers who will help create good paying jobs and grow our economy."
McCain said the defeat of any one of the key provisions of the "carefully crafted" legislation could jeopardize the whole effort. If "certain things" are changed, "we would lose one side or the other."
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and member of the bipartisan group, said his group would need to take its time with the legislation. "It's a complicated issue and I think people want to learn more about it," he told reporters. "This will be a while. This is not going to be done in a week or quite frankly in a month."
Under the measure, the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants would be given a provisional legal status and a pathway to U.S. citizenship – on the success of a multibillion-dollar effort to make U.S. borders less porous, using unmanned aerial surveillance, the construction of double and triple layers of fencing and the deployment of thousands of additional border patrol officers along with the National Guard.
The bill would also require employers to use an electronic verification system to check the status of workers, raise the number of visas for high- and low-skilled workers, and set wages to the prevailing level.
To get business support, the bill would create a new system of visas for temporary agricultural workers and low-skilled laborers as well as expand the number of specialized, highly-trained foreigners allowed to enter the country to work for technology companies. And to avoid alienating fiscal conservatives in both parties, the proposal denies most federal benefits to the immigrants until they achieve permanent status in the United States, which could take 10 years.