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16 Apr, 2013 17:11

Congress postpones immigration reform bill discussion after Boston Marathon bombing

Congress postpones immigration reform bill discussion after Boston Marathon bombing

The bombing at the Boston Marathon has delayed the introduction of a major bipartisan immigration bill that would seek to provide millions with a path to citizenship.

The United States Senate initially planned to introduce the landmark legislation on Tuesday, but has pushed the unveiling to an undefined but later date. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) told the Associated Press that the bill could be introduced as early as Wednesday.

The bill would tighten border security, force employers to verify their workers’ legal status and allow illegal immigrants to apply for a 13-year path to citizenship at the cost of $2,000 in fees. But the immigration overhaul would also exclude hundreds of thousands of the 11 million immigrants from applying for legal status.

Immigrants who illegally came to the US after Dec. 31, 2011, would be prohibited from ever gaining a path to citizenship, an unnamed Senate aide told AP last week. Immigrants who can’t prove financial stability or who have a criminal record would also be excluded from gaining legal status.

Skilled international workers, on the other hand, would be given the opportunity to come to the US on a “merit visa” under a program that aims to bring talented individuals to the American workforce. There would be no limit in the number of green cards the US gives out to foreigners with extraordinary skills in science, education, athletics, arts or business. Professors, doctors and other educated foreigners would easily be able to come to the US.

The maximum number of low-skilled workers would be set to 200,000 a year. An agriculture visa program would bring thousands of farm workers to the US annually, and visas would also be available for those seeking jobs in construction, long-term healthcare, janitorial work and other low-skilled occupations.

The bipartisan support behind the bill, which was drafted by a group of four Democrats and four Republicans, means it could be likely that Congress passes the legislation. It addresses Republican interests by tightening enforcement provisions and border security, and addresses Democratic interests by giving immigrants the opportunity for citizenship.

“There’s a realization among most Republicans and Democrats that this issue needs to be addressed,” Sen. McCain told AP. “You can’t have 11 million people living in the shadows forever.”

McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) briefed Republican senators on the bill Monday night, while Senate Democrats are expected to hear about the act on Wednesday.

McCain and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), both leaders of the effort, were originally scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on Tuesday to provide him with details on the legislation. It is unclear whether or not the pair still plans to meet with the president on this date, but Obama has emphasized immigration reform as a priority of his second term in office.

Although the bombing in Boston has delayed the bill’s introduction, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still scheduled to hold hearings on the legislation starting Friday. Titled the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” the bill will be open for a vote as early as May. If passed by the Senate, it would move on to the House for a vote.

Many lawmakers have refused to relay their thoughts on the bill until it becomes available to them to read.

“The bill wont be available for a couple of days, and even then I’m going to let it go through the hearing,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) told Roll Call. “I’m going to try to learn from it when it comes to the floor.”

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Boston as the investigation into the details of the terror attack dominates the spotlight.