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Senators Durbin and Flake on Immigration

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 28, 2013

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GWEN IFILL: For the first time in years, there was serious talk today of getting Congress to act on immigration. Senators from both sides of the aisle joined to offer proposals and said they will work to get them passed by summer.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-Fla.: We are dealing with 11 million human beings who are here undocumented, the vast and enormous majority of whom have come here in pursuit of what all of us would recognize as the American dream. And that's what we endeavor to move forward here on.

GWEN IFILL: That announcement today moved immigration reform to the front burner in Congress. Eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, launched a renewed effort to tackle the issue after years of inaction.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: I am the most optimistic I have been in quite some time. And I'm not Pollyannaish about that at all. I recognize there are difficult challenges ahead, but I just get the sense of a spirit and a commitment that is far beyond what I have seen in some time.

GWEN IFILL: The group of eight have agreed to four underlying principles, key among to create a path to legal citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people now estimated to be living in the United States. But, first, the border security would be beefed up and the government would improve its tracking of current visa holders.

The senators also want to grant more green cards to highly educated immigrants and would allow more lower-skilled workers into the country, especially for agricultural purposes. Finally, the agreement calls for an effective verification system to crack down on employers who hire workers in the country illegally.

In 2006 and 2007, similar efforts to fix the nation's patchwork of immigration laws failed under both Republican and Democratically controlled Congresses, but Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said this time will be different.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: The politics on this issue have been turn upside-down. For the first time ever, there's more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it.

GWEN IFILL: Indeed, this new effort comes on the heels of last year's election, in which President Obama won seven of every 10 Hispanic votes in his victory over Republican Mitt Romney.

Senator John McCain of Arizona said that's a key reason his party must now get on board.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: Elections. Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize that there are many issues in which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.

In Espanol, vamanos.

GWEN IFILL: McCain also said the country cannot continue to deny citizenship to children brought to the U.S. illegally. President Obama has said immigration reform is at the top of his second-term agenda.

And, today, his spokesman, Jay Carney, welcomed the Senate agreement.

JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman: This is a big deal. This is an important development. This is in keeping with the principles the president has been espousing for a long time, in keeping with bipartisan efforts in the past, and with the effort this president believes has to end in a law that he can sign.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Obama is scheduled to unveil his own ideas on immigration reform tomorrow in Las Vegas.

 JUDY WOODRUFF: So how will the politics of this new effort shake out on Capitol Hill?

We asked two senators from the gang of eight -- first, my conversation with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. I talked to the majority whip just a short time ago.

Senator Durbin, thank you very much for joining us.

I think one of the main questions I'm hearing is, what does this proposal mean for people living in this country illegally right now? What would happen to them?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill.: Basically, it would give them a chance to go through a criminal background check to make certain that there are no problems in terms of their background, to pay a fine, to pay their taxes, and then they would be here in a probationary status, where they could not be deported. They could work.

And we watch them as a number of other things evolve and progress under the bill, border security, leading to green cards, leading to citizenship.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we hear some advocacy organizations saying, wait a minute. Even that level of requirement is going to be a disincentive, that they're not going to want to sign up if they have to pay a fine and so forth.

RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I will tell you, that's going to be part of it. We believe that these people who have lived here for so many years in fear and have tried to make the best of their lives and the lives of their families are prepared to earn their way into legal status and to citizenship.

And the argument that they wouldn't pay a fine and such, I really think this will not be a major obstacle. We just went through this with the deferred deportation under the DREAM Act. Almost 400,000 young people came forward. They paid the amount that was necessary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We also are hearing, Senator, from labor leaders who are saying this -- requiring that they provide -- that illegal -- folks who are here illegally provide proof of employment is going to be very difficult for many of them, because they have been working off the clock. They have been complying with rules that allow them to work, but that don't give them actual proof.

RICHARD DURBIN: We have run into this before.

When you have been living in the shadows for years, maybe even decades, and we say to come forward, register with the government, some are afraid to do it. And those that do it say, “we don't leave a paper trail in our lives.” Well, they have to construct something. And it's hard. It's difficult. But they're doing it. The young people are doing it. And I'm convinced that many of them will be able to satisfy the requirements in the final bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, another comment is, are these individuals who could be taking jobs away from Americans, people living in this country legally now?

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