'US immigration bill could exclude many'



Washington: Bipartisan immigration legislation emerging in the Senate could prevent hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the US illegally from ever becoming citizens, according to a Senate aide with knowledge of the proposals.

The bill expected to be unveiled next week would bar anyone who arrived in the US after December 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposals had not been announced.

It also would require applicants to document that they were in America before December 31, 2011, have a clean criminal record, and show enough employment or financial stability that they're likely to stay off welfare.

Those requirements could end up excluding hundreds of thousands of the 11 million immigrants in the US illegally from the path to citizenship envisioned by the bill, the aide said.

Although illegal immigration to the US has been dropping, many tens of thousands still arrive each year, so the cut-off date alone could exclude a large number of people.

That may come as a disappointment to immigrant rights groups that had been hoping that anyone here as of the date of enactment of the bill could be able to become eligible for citizenship.

But Republicans in the immigration negotiating group had sought strict criteria on legal enforcement and border security as the price for their support for a path to citizenship, which is still opposed by some as amnesty.

The new details emerged as negotiators reached agreement on all the major elements of the sweeping legislation.

After months of arduous closed-door negotiations, the "Gang of Eight" senators, equally divided between the two parties, had no issues left to resolve in person, and no more negotiating sessions were planned. Remaining details were left to aides, who were at work completing drafts of the bill.

"All issues that rise to the member level have been dealt with," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement. "All that is left is the drafting." Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said the bill probably would be introduced on Tuesday.

The landmark legislation would overhaul legal immigration programs, require all employers to verify the legal status of their workers, greatly boost border security and put the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally on a path to citizenship. A top second-term priority for President Barack Obama, it would enact the biggest changes to US immigration law in more than a quarter century.

Deals formed over the past day on a new farm-worker program and visas for high-tech workers, eliminating the final substantive disputes on the legislation.

Next will come the uncertain public phase as voters and other lawmakers get a look at the measure. Already, some on the right have made it clear their opposition will be fierce.

Once the legislation is released, it will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday and will likely begin to amend and vote on the bill the week of May 06. From there, the bill would move to the Senate floor.

Both in committee and on the floor, the bill could change in unpredictable ways as senators try to amend it from the left and the right.

Even more uncertain, though, is the conservative-led House, where a bipartisan group is also crafting an immigration bill, though timing of its release is uncertain. Many conservatives in the House remain opposed to citizenship for immigrants who have been living in the US illegally.

PTI