After last year’s election, when Hispanic voters overwhelmingly backed Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, there now appears to be broad support in the Senate for a so-called path to citizenship. But the length of the waiting period has continued to be at the heart of the philosophical struggle between Democrats and Republicans.
The elected officials in Washington, D.C. are desperately trying to work out a plan that would overhaul immigration law whereby the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants would have to wait a full decade for a green card but could earn citizenship just three years after that. The two waiting periods would ultimately provide the nation’s illegal immigrants with a path to U.S. citizenship in 13 years, matching the draft of a plan by President Obama to offer full participation in American democracy to millions who are living in fear of deportation.
The arrangement would reduce the amount of time it takes to become a naturalized citizen down from five years to just three years. In an effort to appease Republicans, it would also extend to ten years, from eight, the amount of time that illegal immigrants must wait before receiving permission to work in the United States permanently.
Negotiations among the senators have intensified significantly in recent days as they push toward a goal of announcing comprehensive immigration legislation in early April. Republicans and Democrats say they believe that a 10-year wait for a green card would provide enough time to clear out the existing backlog of millions of immigration cases, so that illegal immigrants would not skip ahead of legal entrants. Currently, it can take up to 20 years to obtain a green card to work in the United States.
Republicans are concerned that a three-year naturalization process for illegal immigrants could give them a faster path to citizenship than people who enter legally. The senators also remain at odds over a series of other major issues, including the establishment of a guest-worker program for low-skilled immigrants; a better system for companies to verify the immigration status of job applicants; determining who has the final authority to declare the borders secure; and modifying rules that prioritize the family members who can immigrate to the United States legally.
This much is clear. No immigration debate has been more contentious over the years than the question of whether, and how, illegal immigrants eventually become citizens.
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