Democrats seek to bolster security before legalization

New law in Ariz. spurred senators’ immigration plan

By Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press / April 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON — An emerging immigration proposal by three Democratic senators calls for more federal enforcement agents and other border security-tightening benchmarks before illegal immigrants could become legal US residents.

Those goals “must be met before action can be taken to adjust the status of people already in the United States illegally,’’ according to a copy of the draft legislation, obtained yesterday by the Associated Press. Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Charles Schumer of New York, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey are developing the plan.

The benchmarks include additional Border Patrol officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to combat smuggling; more ICE inspectors at work sites; an increased number of ICE officers assigned to detect fraudulent documents, and better ways to determine fakes; more personnel to check for contraband at ports of entry; additional resources to prosecute drug and human smugglers and illegal border crossers; and more resources for deportations.

An outline of the proposal does not specify the additional agents or resources required to meet the benchmarks.

The proposal suggests a two-phase system for immigrants who are in the United States illegally. Before the benchmarks are met, the Department of Homeland Security could begin registering, fingerprinting, and screening illegal immigrants, and considering them for an interim legal status. That would allow them to work in the United States and travel outside it.

Such immigrants could start applying for legal permanent residence, eight years after backlogs of visas for people coming to the United States legally have been cleared and after the security benchmarks are met. They also must show they have basic citizenship and English skills; have paid all taxes, fees, and civil penalties; and have registered for the military draft.

Arizona’s new strict immigration law has led to renewed demands for Congress to pass a comprehensive bill. Reid, the Senate’s majority leader, recently said he is committed to taking up immigration this election year but also backed away from addressing the divisive issue before legislation on climate change.

Spokesmen for the three senators declined to comment.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has worked with Schumer on an immigration bill, has balked at moving ahead this year. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Graham said drug violence along the border with Mexico is evidence that the border is not secure.