All about immigration: Green cards? Citizenship?

Monday - 5/6/2013, 10:10am EDT

FILE – In this May 10, 2011, file photo President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform in El Paso, Texas. In his second term, Obama is making immigration a priority, and Republicans also appear ready to deal. Obama's 2012 re-election win of 71 percent of Hispanic voters sent a loud message to Republicans that they can't ignore this pivotal voting bloc. 2013 may be the year Congress decides what to do about the millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

NANCY BENAC
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- This may be the year Congress decides what to do about the millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. After years of gridlock, there are ideas whizzing all around Washington.

For now, all eyes are on an 844-page Senate proposal with the you-said-a-mouthful title of the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013."

Look for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take its first votes on the legislation on Thursday.

What's in that bill? Is there a Plan B? And who are all these immigrants, once you get past the big round numbers?

A big dose of facts, figures and other information to help understand the current debate:

___

WHY NOW?

Major problems with U.S. immigration have been around for decades.

President George W. Bush tried to change the system and failed. President Barack Obama promised to overhaul it in his first term but never did.

In Obama's second term, he's making immigration a priority, and Republicans also appear ready to deal.

Why the new commitment?

Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic voters in his 2012 re-election campaign, and he owes them. Last year's election also sent a loud message to Republicans that they can't ignore this pivotal voting bloc.

It's been the kind of breathtaking turnaround you rarely see in politics. Plus, there's growing pressure from business leaders, who want to make it easier for the U.S. to attract highly educated immigrants and to legally bring in more lower-skilled workers such as farm laborers.

___

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Talk about "comprehensive immigration reform" generally centers on four main questions:

--What to do about the 11 million-plus immigrants who live in the U.S. without legal permission.

--How to tighten border security.

--How to keep businesses from employing people who are in the U.S. illegally.

--How to improve the legal immigration system, now so convoluted that the adjective "Byzantine" pops up all too frequently.

___

WHAT'S THE GANG OF EIGHT?

A group of four Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate that crafted a bill to address all four questions. In a nutshell, this proposal would tighten border controls, allow more high- and low-skilled workers to legally immigrate, require employers to verify their workers have legal status, and create an opportunity for those who are in the U.S. illegally to eventually become citizens.

___

IS THERE A PLAN B?

And C and D.

Obama has his own backup plan in case congressional talks fail, but he's given his support to the Senate bill as a worthy compromise.

In the House, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, says his committee will tackle the main immigration issues one by one, instead of starting with a single sweeping bill.

Separately, there's a bipartisan House group working on legislation.

Obama says he will keep an open mind about the various proposals, but the final deal has to address all the big issues.

___

COMING TO AMERICA

A record 40.4 million immigrants live in the U.S., representing 13 percent of the population. More than 18 million are naturalized citizens, 11 million are legal permanent or temporary residents, and more than 11 million are in the country without legal permission, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a private research organization.

Those in the U.S. illegally made up about 3.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2010. While overall immigration has steadily grown, the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally peaked at 12 million in 2007.

___

WHERE FROM?

Twenty-nine percent of the foreign-born in the U.S., or about 11.7 million people, came from Mexico. About 25 percent came from South and East Asia, 9 percent from the Caribbean, 8 percent from Central America, 7 percent South America, 4 percent the Middle East and the rest from elsewhere.

The figures are more lopsided for immigrants living here illegally: An estimated 58 percent are from Mexico. The next closest figure is 6 percent from El Salvador, says the government.

___

WHERE TO?

California has the largest share of the U.S. immigrant population, 27 percent, followed by New York, New Jersey, Florida, Nevada, Hawaii and Texas, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a private group focused on global immigration issues.

California has the largest share of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, at 25 percent, followed by Texas with 16 percent. Florida and New York each has 6 percent, and Georgia has 5 percent, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

___

GETTING IN

1 2 3 4 5 Next page »