A months-in-the-making immigration reform bill that bolsters border security while creating a path to citizenship can break Washington's losing streak for passing large, meaningful legislation, its creators said at an unveiling event Thursday.
The latest attempt at comprehensive immigration reform is the product of 24 meetings among the bipartisan "Gang of 8," whose members said Thursday they were confident they could convince their Senate colleagues to join them in support of the measure.
"An unprecedented coalition is formed in favor of immigration reform," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the event, citing the work of "some of the most well-known conservative activists in Washington, and some of the most progressive."
"Powerful outside sources have helped defeat other initiatives in Washington. But on immigration, the opposite is proven true," he continued. "I am convinced this issue will not fall victim to the usual partisan gridlock."
"We know Congress has been broken," added Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "This is an effort by four Democrats and four Republicans to prove to you and the rest of the members of the Senate, and eventually the House, it doesn't have to stay broken."
The package includes an agreement on a path to citizenship that would affect the nearly 11 million undocumented residents currently in the United States. Under the proposed law, it would take 10 years for undocumented workers to get a green card, and then another three years to gain citizenship.
Along the way, undocumented workers would have to pay a fine and back taxes and pass a background check.
That pathway to citizenship would remain contingent on three "triggers," which include forming an "e-verify" system for employers to check the legal status of workers; tracking immigrants entering and leaving the country, and bolstering border security -- a key requirement for Republicans on the bipartisan panel.
Some conservative critics say a pathway to citizenship is tantamount to amnesty, but Republicans within the "Gang of Eight" argue a way to bring undocumented workers into legal status is essential.
"Yes, we offer a path to citizenship to people who didn't come here legally," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "They're here and realistically there is nothing we can do that will induce them all to return to their countries of origin. Many of them have valuable contributions to our society and will provide even more if brought out of the shadows and in compliance with our laws."
Noting "America is a nation of immigrants," Florida Republican Marco Rubio said failures from both parties have led to the current broken system.
"Both Democrats and Republicans have failed to enforce the laws, and the result is we do have millions of people that are here against our immigration laws," he said. "We're not going to deport them. So let's secure the border, and let's bring these people out of the shadows."
Immigration has a tortured history in Congress -- past attempts, including during George W. Bush's presidency, failed and caused some supportive Republicans to lose backing with core conservatives.
But as the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States grows, both Republicans and Democrats say now is the time to revamp a system that neither side regards as adequate.
Republicans have expressed renewed interest in the issue as the party looks for new ways to expand its appeal among Hispanic voters, and President Barack Obama has named comprehensive immigration reform as a top priority of his second term, fulfilling a promise he made during both of his White House bids.
Another top priority -- new gun laws -- suffered a serious setback Wednesday after a bipartisan attempt to strengthen background checks on gun sales failed in the Senate, along with other gun control measures sought in the aftermath of December's school shooting in Connecticut.
Asked Thursday why the bipartisan immigration reform bill wouldn't suffer a similar fate, Schumer pointed to the coalition of labor leaders and business groups that helped bring the legislation together.
"I don't think it's at all like gun control, frankly," he said. "I think the issue we're starting with has broader support."