WASHINGTON - A draft of a White House immigration proposal obtained by USA TODAY would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents within eight years.
The plan also would provide for more security funding and require business owners to check the immigration status of new hires within four years. In addition, the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants could apply for a newly created "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa, under the draft bill being written by the White House.
If approved, they could then apply for the same provisional legal status for their spouse or children living outside the country, according to the draft.
The bill is being developed as members in both chambers of Congress are drafting their own immigration bills. In the House, a bipartisan group of representatives has been negotiating an immigration proposal for years and are writing their own bill. Last month, four Republican senators joined with four Democratic senators to announce their agreement on the general outlines of an immigration plan.
One of those senators, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Obama's bill repeats the failures of past legislation and would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.
"It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders, (and) creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally," Rubio said. "It would actually make our immigration problems worse."
The draft was obtained from an Obama administration official who said it was being distributed to various agencies. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the proposal publicly.
The bill mirrors many provisions of the bipartisan 2007 bill that was spearheaded by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and ultimately failed.
In his first term, Obama often deferred to Congress on drafting and advancing major legislation, including the Affordable Care Act. He has openly supported the efforts in Congress to take the lead on immigration legislation, and just this week met with Democratic senators to discuss their proposals.
But two weeks ago in Las Vegas, while outlining his immigration plans, Obama made clear that he would not wait too long for Congress to get moving.
"If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away," he said.
White House spokesman Clark Stevens said Saturday that the administration continues to support the bipartisan efforts ongoing in Congress.
"The president has made clear the principles upon which he believes any common-sense immigration reform effort should be based," Stevens said. "We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the president has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit."
According to the White House draft, people would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. If approved, they would be allowed to legally reside in the U.S. for four years, work and leave the country for short periods of time. After the four years, they could then reapply for an extension.
Illegal immigrants would be disqualified from the program if they were convicted of a crime that led to a prison term of at least one year, three or more different crimes that resulted in a total of 90 days in jail, or if they committed any offense abroad that "if committed in the United States would render the alien inadmissible or removable from the United States."
People currently in federal custody or facing deportation proceedings also could be allowed to apply for the Lawful Prospective Immigrant visa. Application forms and instructions would be provided in "the most common languages spoken by persons in the United States," but the application and all supporting evidence submitted to the federal government would have to be in English.
They would also be given a new identification card to show as proof of their legal status in the country.
The immigrants could then apply for legal permanent residence, commonly known as a green card, within eight years if they learn English and "the history and government of the United States" and pay back taxes. That would then clear the path for them to apply for U.S. citizenship.
To combat fraud, the draft proposes a new Social Security card be developed that is "fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant and wear-resistant." The Social Security Administration would be required to issue the new cards within two years.
A major requirement for many Republicans is enhanced border security. The bill calls for an unspecified increase in the Border Patrol, allows the Department of Homeland Security to expand technological improvements along the border and adds 140 new immigration judges to process the heavy flow of people who violate immigration laws.
It also orders U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to study whether a land-border crossing fee should be implemented to help offset border security costs. The draft also proposes raising many inspection fees that border-crossers already pay.
The draft bill proposes a new plan to allow Homeland Security to "accept donations" from citizens, businesses and local and state governments to improve ports of entry and security features along the border. And it would require CBP to begin collecting statistics on deaths along the border and report them quarterly.
The draft also expands the E-Verify program that checks the immigration status of people seeking new jobs. Businesses with more than 1,000 employees must begin using the system within two years, businesses with more than 250 employees within three years and all businesses within four years.
Homeland Security, working with the U.S. departments of Labor and Agriculture, the attorney general and other agencies, would engage in a $40 million-a-year program to educate business owners and workers about the program.
Homeland Security also would be required to submit a report within 18 months showing how the worker verification system is working, and specifically explain how it is affecting the nation's agriculture industry, which relies heavily on illegal immigrant workers.
The draft obtained by USA TODAY does not include sections that would alter the nation's legal immigration system to adjust the future flow of legal immigrants, which is expected to be a critical component of any immigration overhaul.