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WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that won praise from upstate New York farmers and immigration advocates but vehement attacks from critics who say the bill offers amnesty to undocumented aliens.

Brokered by a “Gang of Eight” led by Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the bill sets out a difficult multiyear path, laced with $2,000 in fines and an English-language requirement, that could eventually lead to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented aliens who are currently in the United States. It also includes a new program aimed at encouraging migrant farmworkers to come to the United States legally, as well as a broader effort to allow high-skill workers from overseas to work in the United States. In addition, the bill imposes a far tougher security regimen, including a fence at high-risk areas along the southern border.

Leading praise for the effort was Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose support was considered essential to giving the bill any chance of passage in the deeply divided Senate.

“I believe [the bill] will fix our broken system by securing our borders, improving interior enforcement, modernizing our legal immigration to help create jobs and protect American workers, and dealing with our undocumented population in a tough but humane way that is fair to those trying to come here the right way and linked to achieving several security triggers,” Rubio said.

But the bill’s critics said it offers amnesty to immigrants who entered the country illegally. “This bill is legalization first, not enforcement first,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. “The day the bill passes there will be effective amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, with only the same promises we have heard before of enforcement to occur at some later date.”

Both Schumer and Dean Norton, president of the New York Farm Bureau, said the legislation would have major benefits for New York’s farms, which for years have lacked farm labor under a get-tough immigration policy that made it difficult for migrant workers to enter the United States legally.

The bill offers special benefits for the state’s growing dairy industry, Schumer said. While current law allows only temporary migrant farmworkers to be in the U.S. for nine months at a time, the bill would allow them to stay for up to three years.

Schumer said that would be a crucial improvement for the year-round dairy industry. Norton noted the bill would also provide a reliable labor supply to fruit and vegetable growers.

“But Dan Stein, president of the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform, said: “This legislation is all about satisfying the demands of illegal aliens and their advocates for amnesty and providing business interests access to low-wage foreign labor.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com