Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., announced the building blocks Thursday for a new push in Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
They outlined a plan to require U.S. citizens and legal immigrants to obtain a new high-tech Social Security card tied to their fingerprints or other biometric identifiers and to create a system to bring in temporary workers as the U.S. economy demands.
The immigration "blueprint" drew an immediate vow of support from President Obama.
"I . . . pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. Obama congratulated Schumer and Graham on what he called "a promising, bipartisan framework which can and should be the basis for moving forward."
In an op-ed article, Graham and Schumer shied away from details and did not say when they would produce a bill.
Opponents noted that Congress failed in 2006 and 2007 to pass similar legislation backed by President George W. Bush that proposed tougher enforcement at the border and at U.S. workplaces, a program to bring in guest workers for U.S. employers, and a path to gain legal status for many of the estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Congressional supporters, whose ideas track those proposals, have labored under a self-imposed deadline, hoping to advance a bill to the Senate floor before Memorial Day. Lawmakers do not want to hold a contentious debate over immigration policies close to fall elections at a time of high unemployment.
Latino groups, immigrant advocates, religious organizations and others who support an immigration overhaul have expressed growing frustration as time appears to be running out. Immigrant activists called for a march on Washington on Sunday to press the administration, saying Obama was not delivering on a 2008 campaign pledge to advance such legislation.
Besides creating a system to regulate the flow of temporary workers in consultation with labor unions and U.S. business groups, the senators said, their plan would award permanent residency to immigrants who get advanced degrees from a U.S. university in science, technology, engineering or math.
As in earlier efforts, the senators would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who have not committed felonies, and who admit they broke the law by entering the country illegally, then agree to perform community service, pay fines and back taxes, pass background checks and learn English.