By ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House is circulating a draft immigration bill that would create a new visa for illegal immigrants living in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years, according to a report published online Saturday by USA Today.
President Barack Obama's bill would create a "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. The bill includes more security funding and requires business owners to adopt a system for verifying the immigration status of new hires within four years, the newspaper said.
USA Today reported that the bill would require that immigrants pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. Immigrants who served more than a year in prison for a criminal conviction or were convicted of three or more crimes and were sentenced to a total of 90 days in jail would not be eligible. Crimes committed in other countries that would bar immigrants from legally entering the country would also be ineligible.
Those immigrants facing deportation would be eligible to apply for the visa, the newspaper reported. Immigrants would be eligible to apply for a green card within eight years, if they learn English and U.S. history and government, and they would later be eligible to become U.S. citizens.
Last month a bipartisan group of senators announced they had agreed on the general outline of an immigration plan. For his part, Obama has said he would not submit his own legislation to Congress so long as law makers acted "in a timely manner." If they failed, he said, "I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away."
Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said Saturday that Obama still supports a bipartisan effort to create a comprehensive immigration bill. "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," he said in a statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who has been crafting immigration legislation, derided the draft bill as described by the newspaper as "half-baked and seriously flawed" and said it was disappointing because it repeats what he called failures of past legislation. He also said the White House had erred in not seeking input from Republican lawmakers.
"If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come," Rubio said in a statement.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, described the draft bill as a "very moderate" proposal. While the path to citizenship was welcomed by Noorani, he said not enough attention was being paid to future immigration.
"Common-sense immigration reform must include a functioning immigration system for the future," Noorani said in a statement. "Reform does not begin and end with citizenship and enforcement alone."