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Illegal immigrants may have to wait 10 years for green card

Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 9:41 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — WASHINGTON — Illegal immigrants may have to wait about a decade before receiving a green card under an immigration bill being crafted by a group of senators from both parties.

The details are still being negotiated, but “the process is likely to be in the range of 10 years,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., during a meeting on Capitol Hill with Spanish-language reporters and others.

Under the plan — the outlines of which were unveiled last week — illegal immigrants could be given probationary legal status but would have to wait until border security milestones and other requirements are met before they would be granted legal permanent residency — a green card.

The Senate bill is expected to require illegal immigrants to go to the end of the line for a green card behind all current applicants. The waiting period for a green card application varies widely. In some cases, applicants can wait up to 25 years before being granted lawful permanent residence.

“Clearing the visa backlog will take several years, but we don’t know how many years,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

The group of four Republican and four Democratic senators met twice this week to work on draft legislation, most recently on Wednesday. President Barack Obama has said he would like to see the Senate introduce a bill that creates a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants by March.

Exactly what border security measures would be required has not been decided yet. The senators have agreed that the enforcement milestones, or “triggers,” would be specific and measurable, said a Senate aide familiar with the discussions.

Some options being discussed by the Senate group are hiring a specific number of new border patrol agents or building a certain amount of new border fencing, said the aide.

It could take many years for the government to roll out and pay for the additional enforcement measures. It would also take time to ensure that applicants satisfy the employment, civics education, English proficiency and other standards in the Senate plan.

“There is a budgetary element here, a 10-year budget element, that guides us on this decision as much as anything else,” said Durbin, who spoke to reporters along with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is also in the Senate group.

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