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State and Nation

January 28, 2013

Senators reach agreement on immigration reform

(Continued)

"I think the time is right," McCain said.

The group claims a notable newcomer in Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate whose conservative bona fides may help smooth the way for support among conservatives wary of anything that smacks of amnesty. In an opinion piece published Sunday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rubio wrote that the existing system amounts to "de facto amnesty," and he called for "commonsense reform."

According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, the senators will call for accomplishing four goals:

—Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.

—Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.

—Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.

—Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn't recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

The principles being released Monday are outlined on just over four pages, leaving plenty of details left to fill in. What the senators do call for is similar to Obama's goals and some past efforts by Democrats and Republicans, since there's wide agreement in identifying problems with the current immigration system. The most difficult disagreement is likely to arise over how to accomplish the path to citizenship.

In order to satisfy the concerns of Rubio and other Republicans, the senators are calling for the completion of steps on border security and oversight of those here on visas before taking major steps forward on the path to citizenship.

Even then, those here illegally would have to qualify for a "probationary legal status" that would allow them to live and work here — but not qualify for federal benefits — before being able to apply for permanent residency. Once they are allowed to apply they would do so behind everyone else already in line for a green card within the current immigration system.

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