A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday unveiled a compromise immigration reform plan that would toughen border security while allowing most of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants to gain legal status and, eventually, citizenship.
Proponents of the measure, crafted by four Republican and four Democratic senators, say the plan takes into consideration a variety of views on how to solve the nation's long-standing immigration problem.
"You have every major interest on both sides of this issue coming to together to support this, not because they like 100 percent of it, but because they think it's the way forward to get immigration reform accomplished," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an author of the proposal, said Tuesday.
President Obama, for whom immigration reform is a top priority, urged the Senate to take up the legislation after being briefed by McCain and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Tuesday afternoon.
"This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me," Obama said. "But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform."
A 17-page draft of the compromise obtained by The Washington Examiner calls for construction of a double- or triple-layer fence along some of the more porous portions of the U.S.-Mexico border. It would require that a special commission be created to address border problems if law enforcement fails to capture 90 percent of those trying to enter the country illegally.
Under the compromise, the government would spend billions more to bolster immigration and customs enforcement, including the use of surveillance drones, to help tighten border security.
The plan would phase in over five years an electronic verification system to help employers weed out illegal workers.
The draft compromise, presented Monday to a group of Republican senators including Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, and Charles Grassley, of Iowa, would provide legal status to illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before 2012, who have no criminal record and who pay a $500 fine.
Immigrants with legal status who work for a decade without committing a major crime can then pay an additional $1,500 fine to get a green card. Three years after that, they would be placed on a pathway to citizenship.
The number of visas available for skilled immigrant workers would jump from 65,000 to as high was 180,000 under the proposal. A new visa program for lower-skilled workers would allow another 185,000 immigrants to enter the U.S. in the first four years.
Farm workers in the U.S. illegally would be able to gain legal status under the proposal by paying back taxes and a $400 fine and a new guest worker visa program will be established to allow more farm workers to enter the country.
Sessions said Tuesday that the compromise would hurt lower-wage American workers.
"This bill will result in a huge surge in laborers," Sessions said. "This will pull down wages and increase unemployment."
Other Republicans favor the border security components of the compromise, but not the pathway to citizenship.
"That is a big hurdle for me," said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
The Senate Judiciary Committee begins debate on the plan Friday, with another hearing scheduled Monday.