While the fees remain unspecified, the Senate bill lays out penalties totaling $2,000 to be paid at various steps along the way. The legislation would create a new status called "registered provisional immigrant" and require anyone with that status to pay taxes.
During the 13-year wait, immigrants would be "working on the books, and you will hopefully be able to make a better income and be progressing in your life," said Ellen Battistelli, a policy analyst with the National Immigration Law Center, who has argued against making the process too costly.
"There are so many requirements and financial burdens, this is a very rigorous path to go," especially for low-wage workers, Battistelli said.
On Thursday, the House released its immigration-reform principles, which included no special path to citizenship for the 11 million people already in the U.S. illegally but would make those here illegally "pay significant fines and back taxes" to gain legal status.
In an interview with CNN broadcast Friday, the president signaled that he may consider legislation that does not offer a path to citizenship — a noticeable shift from his previous position, which was that it "doesn't make sense" to leave that aspect of immigration unresolved.
On Friday, Obama reiterated his preference for a concrete route to citizenship but said he doesn't want to "prejudge" what might land on his desk.
Vasquez and Zalazar, both legal residents in their 50s, did not have to work in the shadows, and both took citizenship classes.
During Zalazar's classs at the Baker-Ripley Community Center in Houston's diverse Gulfton neighborhood, teacher Crystal Gonzalez asked the class how much it cost to become a U.S. citizen. Several hands shot up.
"How many of you have $680 that you can spend tomorrow?" Gonzalez asked.
No hands, just a few nervous giggles and rubbing of temples.
"We're already telling people to start saving money with regard to the reform," Gonzalez said later. "We don't want people to be held back because they don't have the money."
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