April 16, 2013 / 4:01 AM / in 5 years

U.S. senators unveil bipartisan immigration bill

* Border security coupled with hope for illegal immigrants

* Hard fight ahead for passage of legislation in 2013

By Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday unveiled long-awaited landmark legislation to remove the threat of deportation for millions of illegal immigrants, giving them an opportunity to apply for permanent legal status within 10 years and eventually for U.S. citizenship.

Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants who came to America before Dec. 31, 2011 and stayed continuously could apply for “provisional” legal status as soon as six months after the bill is signed by the president.

But beyond that, they would have to wait, perhaps for a decade or more without receiving federal benefits, while the government meets a host of tough conditions for securing U.S. borders and enforcing current immigration law.

The bill’s sponsors - four Democrats and four Republicans -felt such conditions and enforcement “triggers” to be necessary in order to help it succeed where similar measures have failed, mostly because of opposition to what opponents see as “amnesty” for law-breakers.

Even with the many caveats, the proposal faces months of debate, scores of amendments and potentially significant opposition, particularly in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Indeed, much of the legislation was designed to make the bill palatable to Republicans.

Billions of dollars in new money would be funneled into additional border security to discourage people from avoiding detection as they crossed Mexico’s border with the United States.

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