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Bennet joins immigration reform group

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Immigration activists hold hands Monday in front of Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. The Florida Immigrant Coalition, together with other immigrant families and community organizations, have initiated a campaign demanding immigration reform that creates a system that keeps families united. Activists and immigrants also asked for the suspension of deportations as lawmakers work on immigration reform.

By Joe Hanel , Stefanie Dazio Herald staff writers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and seven other senators released their bipartisan plans for immigration reform Monday, combining Democrats' wishes for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants with Republicans' calls for strengthened border security.

Five of the eight senators, collectively known as the “Gang of Eight,” outlined their recommendations in a news conference Monday afternoon. Bennet, D-Colo., was not present, said his spokesman Adam Bozzi, because of a trip to New York as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“(Monday) marks a resounding step forward in the longtime effort to fix our broken immigration system,” Bennet said in a news release. “The status quo is holding back the economy, hurting families and undermining our security.”

The senators – Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz; and Bennet – hope to have a bill passed this year that would create permanent reform.

“We believe we have a window of opportunity to act,” Schumer said at the news conference.

The senators' suggestions include:

Creating a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States that hinges upon first securing borders and fighting visa overstays.

Developing an employment verification system.

Providing the Border Patrol with more technology, infrastructure and personnel.

Attracting and keeping top international students who receive doctorates or master's degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. university.

The White House has pledged support, but not President Barack Obama's signature, for the senators' comprehensive framework. Obama will discuss his immigration-reform ideas today in Las Vegas.

With its agriculture, high-tech and tourism industries, Colorado could be considered “the state that fits this the most,” Bozzi said in a phone interview.

The state is 20 percent Hispanic and ranks 12th in the country for undocumented immigrants, according to The Washington Post.

In December, Bennet and former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., unveiled the Colorado Compact, an attempt to generate bipartisan immigration reform in the nation's capital.

The Compact helped push reform to the national stage, Bozzi said.

“We're building on the same ideas that Coloradans brought to the table,” he said.

Both Colorado's senators are supporters of immigration reform.

If the plan passes Congress, it could open the door to bipartisan cooperation in Colorado.

At the state Capitol, state lawmakers say they are close to allowing children who immigrated illegally with their parents to pay in-state tuition at Colorado colleges.

The bill has failed often during the last decade, but sponsors think it will pass this year.

Many opponents say their main argument against the bill is the lack of federal action on immigration reform, because kids who get college degrees would not be able to work legally.

“I look forward to learning more about the details of the proposal in the days ahead,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a news release. “Coloradans of every stripe are demanding action for the good of our national security, our economy and our families. I plan to stand with Coloradans in the coming weeks and months to fight for common-sense immigration reform.”

Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at sdazio@durangoherald.com.

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