WASHINGTON - The White House is drafting an immigration plan that would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent US residents within eight years, USA Today reported Saturday.
The plan would also allocate additional security funds and require business owners to check the immigration status of any new hires within four years. The estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States could also apply for a "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa, the report said.
According to the draft, which USA Today said was being circulated among various government agencies, visa applicants would need to pass a criminal background check, file biometric information and pay fees.
Once approved, they would be allowed to reside in the United States legally, work, and leave the country for short visits without losing their status.
A new identification card would prove their legal residence in the country. And, within eight years, the immigrants could apply for a green card to obtain legal permanent residence if they learn English and "the history and government of the United States." They would also have to pay back taxes.
With greencard in hand, the immigrants would then be on a path to apply for US citizenship.
Republicans were quick to criticize the draft, and expressed anger at not being consulted.
"It's a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress," said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, flawing the 'half-baked and seriously flawed" proposal.
"President Obama's leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution."
Rubio, who is leading Republican efforts on immigration legislation seen as crucial in the wake of his party's poor performance with Latinos in November elections, said the president's plan would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.
Rubio said Obama's bill was not tough enough on securing the long border the United States shares with Mexico, and that it "puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally."
The National Immigration Forum, which advocates for immigration reform, said the White House proposal seemed to be "very moderate," but lacked the necessary provisions for a future comprehensive immigration system beyond citizenship and enforcement.
"America's economy needs the President and Congress to craft a stable immigration system that serves our economy and our workforce," said the group's executive director Ali Noorani.
"Commonsense immigration reform must include a functioning immigration system for the future; reform does not begin and end with citizenship and enforcement alone. We hope the bipartisan process underway in the Senate achieves this goal."
Noorani also warned that a large increase in border patrol agents and immigration judges, as advocated in the president's plan, "would be better used at ports of entry and reducing the backlog for legal immigrants."
Obama urged Congress, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, to pass comprehensive immigration reform "in the next few months."
Eight senators -- four of Obama's Democratic allies and four Republicans -- unveiled a plan last month aiming to provide a legal status to illegal immigrants living on US soil.
The burst of activity on Capitol Hill marks the best chance in years to craft legislation to tighten border security, improve employment verification and bring the huge illegal immigrant population out of legal limbo.
A 2007 effort spearheaded by then-president George W. Bush failed.
Obama and top Republicans are for once in agreement that political and demographic trends have shifted, making reform politically expedient and offering the best chance for serious reform in a generation.
But differences remain, particularly in the contentious issue of how to accommodate the millions who entered the country without permission, or who came in legally but overstayed their visas.
Obama says he will present his own immigration bill if Congress cannot soon come to an agreement. His Republican foes are focusing on the need for greater border security.