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Pathway to citizenship doesn't look like street under Senate bill

Pathway to citizenship? Try pathway of probation.

Though bashed as "amnesty" by hardliners, the congressional plans to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants treat them like law breakers who need to watch their step for more than a dozen years.

They’ll have to pay fines, get fingerprinted, show they’re crime-free taxpayers and — little reported until now — check in periodically with a probation-like immigration system to make sure they’re in good standing with the law, according to Democrats and Republicans familiar with the Senate’s proposed legislation, which will be released Tuesday.

Those who miss a scheduled payment of their fines, upwards of $2,000, could lose the right to stay in the United States.

The earliest that most of the currently undocumented immigrants could become citizens: 13 years from the date of passage of the act.

That timeline becomes longer if the federal government doesn’t meet timelines to make good on creating a new visa-tracking system, ensuring employers don’t knowingly hire the undocumented and securing the border — at a cost of at least $5 billion, according to one version of the Senate bill.

The long path could mean that 10 percent or more of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country probably won’t be legalized at the outset of the act’s passage. Thousands more probably won’t become citizens.

The bill’s law-and-order aspects are a must to ensure passage in the conservative House.

Less reported: the measures could prove too conservative for liberals and Democrats, who control the Senate and White House.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican and leader on the issue in the House.

“The extreme left and the extreme right will bash us, criticize us,” he said.

Diaz-Balart refuses to discuss any details about a House plan that will be released in the coming weeks. His Republican Miami-Dade neighbor, Sen. Marco Rubio, is giving more details Sunday by appearing on every major talk show, including Univision’s “Al Punto.”

Under the Senate plan pushed by Rubio and the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight,” immigrants who came illegally after Jan. 1, 2012, can’t apply for legal status. They face living in this country illegally until they leave or are deported.

The window to apply for legal probationary status may vary from six months to a year after the act’s passage. And that window won’t even open for six months or more — when the federal government is supposed to present a plan for border security.

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