Four Republicans and four Democrats stood in a scenario unfamiliar on Capitol Hill — side by side and united — to talk about a new comprehensive immigration reform plan for the country.
The "gang of eight," as they've been nicknamed, unveiled a proposal to both curb the flow of illegal immigrants and provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million who already live in the shadows.
Republicans Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida as well as Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado said their package still has some final details to be worked out, but they promised the bill would be written by March and hopefully passed out of the Senate by late spring.
"We believe this will be the year that Congress really gets this done," Schumer said. He added for the first time in Congress it is more of a political liability to be opposed to immigration reform than it is to be supportive of it.
"What is going on now is unacceptable," McCain said. "In reality what is going on is a de facto amnesty. It is not beneficial for our country to have these people here living in the shadows. [A path to citizenship] is consistent with our country's tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."
So far, the recommendations include plans to beef up border security, strengthen the E-Verify program, which allows businesses to check on a potential employee's immigration status quickly, and implementation a form of amnesty that allows illegal immigrants, including those brought to the country as children, a way to obtain citizenship.
As with all legislation, however, bipartisan cooperation does not guarantee success. The plan, which would be the first serious attempt at immigration reform since 2007, is already being met with mixed reviews from both liberal and conservative interest groups.
"We are disappointed that citizenship hinges on more enforcement," says Kica Matos, the director of immigration rights for the Center of Community Change, a liberal group. "The Obama administration has deported more people than Bush and this trigger mechanism that links citizenship to enforcement is more about toughness than it is about fairness."
Some conservatives are even less enthused.
Numbers USA, a group that seeks to decrease the number of immigrants coming into the country, decried a path to citizenship for the individuals who came to the country illegally.
"If the Senate were serious about reforming our failed immigration system, the first step of their plan would be immediate, mandatory use of E-Verify," said Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for Numbers USA, who accused the group of trying to "out-amnesty" the president and said the plan thus far is not very different from one introduced six years ago .
"Instead, the Senate gang's proposal is 'Amnesty 2.0' - meaningless enforcement measures, mass amnesty, and increases in legal immigration, with taxpayers left to foot the bill,"she said.
According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute the United States government spends roughly $18 billion on immigration law enforcement already, more than the $14.4 billion that all of the other federal law enforcement agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI spend, combined.