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Immigration Reform Plan Gets Mixed Reviews Across Country


The debate in Washington over immigration reform is underway. Today, a bipartisan group of senators released a framework for sweeping changes to the nation's immigration laws. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his own plan in Nevada tomorrow. The Senate outline includes, among other things, a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally. It also calls for stricter border security and employment verification.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, the plan is already getting mixed reviews.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In recent years, states have been at the forefront of immigration reform, some crafting strict new controls on illegal immigration. In Alabama, which has one of the harshest laws, sponsors like State Senator Scott Beason say they had to act because the federal government wasn't enforcing the nation's immigration laws. He's glad to see Washington ready to tackle the problem.

STATE SENATOR SCOTT BEASON: I think they have put something forth that is deserving of debate.

ELLIOTT: Beason says he's anxious to see the details, but thinks it's key to include border security measures in any comprehensive deal.

BEASON: You can't begin to deal with the illegal immigration problem until you cut off the flow of people into the country illegally. And I think that was one of the important parts.

ELLIOTT: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a chief architect of state immigration laws. He's disappointed to see a path to citizenship tied to border security and job verification measures.

KRIS KOBACH: Why in the world would we grant an amnesty now before we try a law enforcement approach first?

ELLIOTT: Kobach prefers passing incremental changes that have bipartisan support rather than a sweeping reform bill. Don't tie every good idea to amnesty, he says.

KOBACH: The last time the United States tried an amnesty, it caused a surge of new illegal immigration as aliens came across the border, saying - wanting to wait for the next amnesty. Even though we said this was the one and only time, back in 1986, they came knowing - and they were right - that another amnesty would be proposed. The same thing is going to happen again.

ELLIOTT: Civil rights groups, on the other hand, welcome the citizenship provisions in the deal but question the tighter border controls. Laura Murphy is with the ACLU in Washington.

LAURA MURPHY: I would hate to see the Congress waste money on unnecessary enforcement. But I am overjoyed that people understand that we need to embrace a path to citizenship.

ELLIOTT: Murphy says the employment verification system is a thinly disguised national ID card that undermines the privacy of American workers. She's hoping the president's proposal tomorrow will be more focused on getting immigrants out of the shadows, and less about what she calls militarizing the border.

But some advocates are glad to see enforcement combined with a path to citizenship. Randy Brinson is president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama. He calls the bipartisan Senate deal a good start and a balanced approach. His concern is with practical matters. For instance, how quickly will immigrants be able to obtain citizenship and what will happen in the meantime?

RANDY BRINSON: Can we assure immigrants that are here, that may not be documented, that are law-abiding, that they won't be deported or their families be separated?

ELLIOTT: Brinson says working out practical reform is not only important for immigrants, but also for industries like agriculture that have come to depend on their labor.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.

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