June 24, 2009 / 9:22 PM / 10 years ago

Key senator sketches U.S. immigration reform plans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. immigration laws can be overhauled this year despite a crowded legislative agenda, a key senator said on Wednesday as he outlined plans for putting 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and boosting border security.

Senator Charles Schumer, who heads the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said he wants illegal immigrants to quickly register with the government but acknowledged they were unlikely to do so until they see how they could stay in the country legally.

“The time for reform is now, our system is badly broken,” Schumer told the Migration Policy Institute. “The road ahead will not be smooth and I can assure you it will not be straight.”

Still, the Democrat expressed confidence that a bipartisan bill would reach the Senate floor soon.

Schumer’s remarks come a day before President Barack Obama holds a closed-door meeting with lawmakers to discuss how to follow through on his campaign pledge to address illegal immigration and improve border security.

The White House has cast some doubt on the chances for immigration reform passing this year though Democrats who control Congress are plowing ahead. Obama has pressed lawmakers to first finish healthcare and climate change bills.

Schumer said he would tell Obama at the meeting that “all the fundamental building blocks are in place to pass comprehensive immigration reform this session and, even possibly, later this year.”

Republicans have seized on the timing disconnect between the White House and Democrats. Senator John Cornyn, who is the ranking Republican on the immigration subcommittee, on Tuesday urged Obama to first submit his own plan.

“Until the White House decides to get serious about this issue, anything Senator Schumer or anyone else proposes would seem to be dead on arrival,” said Cornyn spokeswoman Tina Gray.

Schumer’s plan calls for control of the vast U.S. borders within a year and getting the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country to register and take steps toward becoming citizens.

“Illegal aliens, however, will never register their presence unless the government provides some mechanism for these individuals to eventually obtain legal status and a path to citizenship upon acknowledging that they broke the law and agreeing to pay their debt to society,” Schumer said.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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