WASHINGTON — As a bipartisan group of eight senators prepared to introduce a plan early next week to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, Senate negotiators have agreed to a cutoff date that could bar hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the path to legalization provided in the legislation.
Illegal immigrants who arrived in the country after Dec. 31, 2011, could be ineligible to apply for legal status — and potentially citizenship — under the new immigration bill, which will provide a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the country.
Every bill that legalizes immigrants has a cutoff date for eligibility, to discourage a surge of people who have heard about potential legislation. Immigration advocates and Democrats in the group had been pushing for the date to be as current as possible — Jan. 1, 2013 — while Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a member of the group, originally argued for 2008.
The Dec. 31, 2011, deadline represented a compromise, as well as something of a victory for Rubio.
‘‘We understand the need for a cutoff date, but it should be 2013, not 2011,’’ said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group. ‘‘The goal of the legislation is to transform a broken immigration system into a legal one. Leaving a few hundred thousand immigrants in limbo is contrary to that goal.’’
On Friday night, one of the final hurdles for the broad legislation was eliminated when farmworkers and growers reached a deal after several weeks of stalled talks.
As the final details of the plan emerge in advance of its likely rollout on Tuesday, senators in the bipartisan group have begun their final preparations, huddling with their staff and planning to take their case to the public on the Sunday news shows.
Rubio, who is often mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender and whose political future perhaps most directly hinges on the immigration legislation, plans to appear on seven Sunday programs, on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, Telemundo, and Univision.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and a member of the group, will also appear on CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union.’’
All four Democratic members of the bipartisan group will also make television appearances on Sunday. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado will appear on Telemundo; Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate, will appear on ‘‘Fox News Sunday”; Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey will be on Univision; and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York will be on ABC’s ‘‘This Week.’’
Rubio, whose support will be critical to selling the legislation to reluctant Republicans and grass-roots conservatives, has already been reaching out behind the scenes, telephoning and holding one-on-one meetings with fellow Republicans and members of the conservative news media.
He has repeatedly called for a transparent process with multiple public hearings, and he is now working with the Republican Policy Committee, whose chairman is Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, to hold hearings on the immigration legislation.
An aide to Rubio said he was also reaching out to other senators, including Democrats, to try to find a way to hold additional bipartisan hearings.
Just days before the senators hope to introduce their legislation, most of the legislative language has been written. The group has agreed on a 13-year path to citizenship (10 years for a green card, and three more for naturalization), a series of border security requirements, a mandatory electronic employment verification program, a new merit-based program for foreign workers to become legal permanent residents, and a plan to clear the backlogs of those immigrants who have applied legally for green cards.
Separate but parallel deals have also been reached between the business and labor communities for a low-skilled worker program, as well as an agriculture worker program. Both farmworkers and children brought to the country illegally by their parents — a group known as Dreamers — would qualify for an expedited path to citizenship.
Over time, the new legislation would also shift the emphasis from family-based immigration to a system that focuses more on skills.