Illegal immigrants would face a maximum of a 13-year wait to become citizens if the Obama administration's version of immigration reform passed, according to a leaked draft of the bill obtained by the Miami Herald.
The unfinished bill, first published by USA Today over the weekend, was drafted as a backup plan in case Congress fails to vote on legislation, according to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Sunday. Under the plan, undocumented immigrants would have to pay a fine, enroll in a Department of Education-approved English and U.S. civics course (or prove their English skills are already up to par) and pass a background check to gain permanent legal immigration status.
Once approved, immigrants would have to wait either eight years or until current legal immigration backlogs are cleared (whichever comes first) before gaining permanent legal status, commonly referred to as a green card. Once immigrants gain green cards, they must wait five years before applying for citizenship.
Under the 1986 immigration reform law that eventually legalized 2.7 million immigrants, the waiting period before being allowed to apply for a green card was just 18 months.
Sen. Marco Rubio, one of four Republicans in the Senate's bipartisan working group on immigration, said in a statement that Obama's bill is “dead on arrival” in part because it does not contain the same border security provisions the working group wants. Under the senators' still-evolving plan, undocumented immigrants could not get permanent legal status before the border is declared secure by a panel of experts and politicians. Immigrant rights groups have argued this border security trigger could mean decades-long waits for citizenship for the country's illegal immigrants.
Groups that oppose immigration reform say the senators' plan does not differ all that much from the president's, because both agree that most of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants should have an eventual path to citizenship.