A a bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled a new immigration reform proposal Monday that would allow for a gradual path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the country.
The senators unveiled details of the proposal during a press conference Monday afternoon, calling it a "tough but fair" way to reform the nation's immigration system for the first time since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed into a law a bill the eventually legalized nearly 3 million immigrants.
"We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough," said New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who added that they planned to have a bill officially introduced by March and passed through the Senate by "late spring or summer."
The senators, who have been meeting about the issue behind closed doors since December, include Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, #$%$ Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Schumer.
Since the presidential election, in which more than 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported President Barack Obama's re-election, the appetite in Washington for comprehensive immigration reform has increased for both parties. The senators behind the effort believe they have a window of opportunity to pass a bill, even though similar efforts failed so many times in the past.
"For the first time ever, there's more political risk in opposing immigration reform than supporting it," Schumer said at the press conference. "We believe we have a window of opportunity to act."
McCain, who led the Republican side of failed bipartisan reform efforts in 2006, pointed to Republican fear of losing Hispanic support as a source of hope to secure passage of the bill. "The Republican party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens," McCain said.
It still remains to be seen whether the senators' blueprint will clash with President Barack Obama's vision for reform, which he will announce Tuesday in more detail in an appearance in Las Vegas. The senators' path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is less direct and could take longer than what Obama has outlined in the past.
When asked why they unveiled their blueprint before the president's speech, the senators said they informed Obama over the weekend that they had reached an agreement. "We don't have much time. We came to an agreement this weekend and we wanted to move quickly," Schumer said. "It seems to me that the Senate is the most fortuitous place to move forward first."