Undocumented migrants may have the chance to regularise their status under Barack Obama's plan. Photo: AP
WASHINGTON: Millions of illegal immigrants in the United States could be granted amnesty and become permanent residents within eight years, under plans being drawn up by President Barack Obama.
Leaked White House proposals to overhaul America's immigration system would give the nation's 11 million undocumented migrants the chance to apply for a new "lawful prospective immigrant" visa.
It would actually make our immigration problems worse.Republican senator Marco Rubio
After eight years, they would be eligible for a green card granting legal residency – provided they learnt English, paid any back taxes, and studied "the history and government of the United States".
The bill is being drafted by Mr Obama and his aides as a fall-back option in case much-heralded bipartisan talks by senior congressmen fail to produce solid plans.
Marco Rubio, a Republican senator for Florida who is a member of the so-called "gang of eight" senators developing their own proposal, said Mr Obama's plan would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.
"It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders," Mr Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, told USA Today, which obtained the draft. "It would actually make our immigration problems worse."
Republicans are anxious to claim credit for an overhaul of the system, which is favoured by Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly backed Mr Obama over Mitt Romney in last year's presidential election.
After winning re-election, Mr Obama declared that enacting immigration reform would be the top priority of his second term. He broke a pledge to do so during his first four years in office.
In return for allowing illegal migrants to stay in the US, Republicans want significant new measures to strengthen the border with Mexico.
Mr Obama's aides point out that he has deported illegal migrants faster than any previous president. His new plan would increase the number of US border patrol agents and create 140 immigration judges, in an attempt to clear a backlog of cases.
Illegal migrants would be barred from the scheme if they had been convicted of a crime resulting in a year or more in prison, or if they had spent 90 days in prison for three or more different crimes.
If approved for the new visa, undocumented migrants could also apply for the same provisional legal status for spouses or children who were living outside the US, under Mr Obama's plan.
The leaked bill did not contain any proposals for dealing with future illegal immigrants, which is expected to be crucial to any reform eventually passed.