Senators crafting an immigration bill have agreed that foreigners who crossed the U.S. border illegally would be deported if they entered the United States after December 31, 2011, a congressional aide said on Friday.
The legislation by a bipartisan group of senators would give the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally a way to obtain legal status and eventually become U.S. citizens, provided certain measures are met.
But of the unauthorized immigrants, those who entered after the December 2011 cut-off date would be forced to go back to their country of origin, said the aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly because the bill is still being negotiated.
"People need to have been in the country long enough to have put down some roots. If you just got here and are illegal, then you can't stay," the congressional aide said.
The lawmakers - four Democrats and four Republicans - are aiming to unveil their bill on Tuesday, one day before the Senate Judiciary Committee is to hold a hearing to examine the legislation.
Senators and congressional aides have said that most major policy issues have been resolved. But some details still need to be worked out, said sources familiar with the negotiations.
Support has been growing among lawmakers and the public for immigration reform since President Barack Obama was re-elected in November with help from the Hispanic community.
The last time U.S. immigration laws were extensively rewritten was in 1986 and those policies have been blamed for allowing millions of people to enter and live in the country illegally, while also resulting in shortages of high-skilled workers from abroad, as well as some low-skilled wage-earners.
Under the bill being crafted, security would first be improved along the southwestern border with Mexico. At the same time, the threat of deportation would be lifted for many who are living in the U.S. illegally. Within 13 years of enactment, those immigrants could begin securing U.S. citizenship.
The bill would increase the number of visas issued for high-skilled workers and create a new program to control the flow of unskilled workers. It would also make it harder for U.S. citizens to petition for visas for their extended families.