Senators announce framework for bipartisan immigration bill

Days before a planned march in Washington, D.C., two U.S. senators announced their framework Thursday for a bipartisan immigration bill that would increase resources for border enforcement, create a biometric Social Security card to prevent forgeries and legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) laid out their proposal in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, saying that “the American people deserve more than empty rhetoric and impractical calls for mass deportation.” The plan also calls for creation of a program to admit temporary workers.

The announcement was immediately praised by President Obama, who pledged Thursday to help translate the framework into a legislative proposal and to continue working “to forge a bipartisan consensus this year.”

The senators’ plan “thoughtfully addresses the need to shore up our borders,” Obama said in a statement, “and demands accountability from both workers who are here illegally and employers who game the system.”

As many as 50,000 faith, labor and immigrant rights advocates are expected at a rally in the nation’s capitol Sunday to pressure the White House and legislators to take action on immigration reform. In a conference call Thursday, they called upon the senators to introduce a bill in coming weeks and begin deliberations in April. They warned that politicians could see the consequences in the midterm elections if progress isn’t made.

“Immigration reform cannot wait another year, another term,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “The time is now and they are marching in D.C. to make that clear.”

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Thursday that Schumer and Graham understand that the system is broken and needs to be fixed.

“The framework is an important step forward,” Noorani said. “The likelihood of immigration reform is very, very strong given this strong start.”

Previous efforts to pass immigration reform legislation failed in 2007. Now, with the economic downturn and millions of Americans out of work, opponents said it was even less likely that the public would support the legalization of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“Allowing millions of illegal immigrants to stay and take jobs away from citizens is like giving a burglar a key to the house,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement.

Mark Krikorian, from the Center for Immigration Studies, who favors stricter controls on immigration, said he believed that there was “zero chance” of legislation being signed by the president. “This is just a way of pretending to show there is progress when there is nothing whatsoever new in what they have written,” he said.

The framework covers familiar territory: border security, interior enforcement, temporary workers and legalization. The legalization plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit they broke the law, perform community service, pay fines and back taxes and learn English. According to the plan, a bill would also give green cards to immigrants who earn a master’s or doctorate in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. university.

The unveiling of the plan follows a gathering last week of the president, both senators and advocates of reform. Since taking office, Obama and the administration have been reaching out to legislators and advocates to garner support for reforming the immigration system. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has held dozens of meetings with Senate and House members and has held round table sessions with state and local politicians and labor, business and faith groups throughout the nation, including in Seattle, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Tamar Jacoby, who runs ImmigrationWorks USA, a federation of employers pushing for reform, said she was encouraged by the framework and that it included a plan for more workers to come legally when they were needed. Jacoby said that publishing a framework now shows the public and stakeholders there’s momentum for the process.

“Part of passing any bill is about garnering public support,” she said. “Voters will be paying attention to the issue this weekend.”

Times staff writer Peter Nicholas in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.