WASHINGTON — A group of Republicans and Democrats in the House is finalizing a sweeping immigration bill that offers work permits and a prospect of citizenship to millions of people in the United States illegally, aides say. That path to citizenship, however, is likely to take at least 15 years for many, longer than envisioned by Senate immigration negotiators or President Obama.
The secretive House effort, which also aims to further tighten the border against foreigners crossing illegally into the United States and crack down on employers who hire them, has been overshadowed by bipartisan negotiations in the Senate, which is expected to act first on immigration legislation. But it was an important indication that a number of lawmakers, including Republicans in the conservative-dominated House, want to have a say in crafting a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law.
“We have legislative language that we’ll be ready to go forward on, not concepts but actual language,” Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas and a leader of the group, said on “Capital Tonight,” a program on cable news channel YNN in Central Texas.
Without revealing details, Carter said the bill should be ready to be released in the next week or two and will address the status of the 11 million immigrants who either arrived in the United States illegally or overstayed their visas.
“We will have a very, very comprehensive bill that will do a great job in addressing these issues and others,” he said.
The House bill will place a strong emphasis on the importance of upholding the law, aides said.
The Senate bill also is expected to be released as early as next week.
According to two House aides with knowledge of the talks, the House bill will offer a couple of possible solutions for those here illegally. Those brought to the country as young children would be able to seek citizenship relatively quickly. People working in agriculture would also get a path toward legalization, a distinction also made in the Senate bill.
The millions of other people here illegally would be able — after paying fines and back taxes and getting a criminal background check — to get a renewable work permit. After 10 years, they could get a green card. Under current law, green card holders can petition for citizenship after five years — three if they are married to a US citizen — and that would probably apply to green card holders under the House bill, too.
That is a longer path to citizenship for most than expected from the Senate bill, which envisions a 10-year path to a green card but then only a three-year wait for citizenship. Legislation from the White House, which Obama has said he’ll offer if the congressional process stalls, also has a 13-year path to citizenship.
The House bill will offer another option, too. Current law requires people here illegally to return to their home countries for as long as 10 years before they can try to enter the United States legally. The House bill would probably allow people who came forward and acknowledged being present illegally to return to their home countries and try to come back legally, but without being subject to the lengthy waits. This could be an option for those with prospects of getting visas under existing law, such as family or employment ties.