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4 major reforms in the Senate's immigration bill

After months of painstaking negotiations punctuated by public disagreements among lawmakers and interest groups, a bipartisan group of senators working to craft a compromise on immigration reform will unveil their handiwork on Tuesday.

It hasn't been easy, but it's almost here. What is it, exactly?

The bill, in broad strokes, would tighten border security, modernize the visa system, and crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers. It would also extend a path to citizenship to many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America.

That's what we know. What we don't know is how much of the fine print is subject to the whims and amendments of an unpredictable Congress. Senators involved in drafting the plan have said their bill is only a "start," and there's every reason to believe the legislative process will change the finished product.

Even so, here's what will be included in the bill to be revealed on Tuesday, according to the senators who have written it:

Tightened border security

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The bill will include a number of measures to achieve "real border security, including fencing," said Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the "gang of eight" senators working on the compromise, Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

The proposal will also set metrics to measure how secure the border is, and it includes safeguards designed to ensure that those metrics are achieved.

"If the Department of Homeland Security does not secure the border, does not meet the metrics of 100 percent awareness [of illegal border crossings] and 90 percent apprehension [of those crossing the border illegally] within in the first five years, then they lose control of the issue," Rubio explained on CNN. "Then it goes to a border commission made up of people that live and have to deal with the border and they will take care of that problem. And it'll be funded to ensure that that happens"

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., another member of the bipartisan group, explained on "Fox News Sunday" that the bill also provides additional money for border security if the metrics are not achieved. We have invested billions of dollars into border enforcement," he said. "And yet, we're saying that if we don't meet all the measurements, all the goals that we've set in years to come, we'll put more in, more investment there. "

On CBS' "Face the Nation," Rubio emphasized that border security doesn't only affect immigration. "The border is really about our sovereignty as a country, about our ability to protect our borders and who gets access to our nation," he said. "The fact of the matter is that, while I am not in favor of a housekeeper or a landscaper crossing the border illegally, what keeps us up at night is the worry that a terrorist can come across that border one day...And so this addresses that as well."

Modernized visa system

The bill would update America's visa system, monitoring the future traffic of immigrants during both departure and arrival to ensure that nobody overstays their welcome.

Touting what he called an "entry-exit system," Rubio explained on CNN, "40 percent of our immigrants are people that enter legally and then they overstay their visas. And we don't really know who they are, because for the most part we only track when people come in, we don't track even when they leave."

With this bill, "we are going to have an entry and exit system to track visas," he said on ABC's "This Week"

The proposal would also expand the number of visas available to high-skilled immigrants, particularly those educated in science, technology, and engineering, "who could actually create jobs," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., another member of the bipartisan gang, on "This Week."

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"Look what we do now - We turn away people who could actually create jobs in America," said Schumer, citing a study from the conservative Cato Institute that said found "this is going to be a shot in the arm for our economy because we'll take people in who will create jobs."

In recent years, the applications for H1-B visas, which are available to high-skilled workers, have far exceeded the number of open spots, forcing the government to literally stage a lottery to distribute them. The Associated Press reported last week that the senators' compromise could more than double the number of annually available visas, from 65,000 today to as many as 150,000.

Finally, in accordance with an agreement between business and labor groups, the bill would set up a guest worker program that aims to admit migrant laborers to work in a variety of low-skilled fields while safeguarding domestic job-seekers from an influx of cheap foreign labor.

Employer verification

The bill would crack down on illegal hiring, preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers by mandating participation in an "E-Verify" system to check the immigration status of prospective employees. It would also levy stiffer penalties on employers who violate the law by hiring undocumented workers.

The goal, Rubio said on CNN, is to ensure that immigrants are paid a fair wage and discourage future illegal immigration by creating a forbidding job market for undocumented workers.

"That's why 'E-Verify' is so important," he explained, saying undocumented workers simply "won't be able to find a job if [they] can't pass that check."

"Employers are now going to have available to them a legal workforce," he added. "There will be no incentive for them and in fact strong disincentive for them to ignore 'E-Verify' and hire someone who's undocumented."

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that employers would be gradually incorporated into the "E-Verify" system, beginning with federal contractors and eventually encompassing small businesses. Within five years, participation would be mandatory.

Path to citizenship

The linchpin of the immigration reform deal - and the biggest target of its opponents - is a proposal to extend a path to citizenship to many of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in America.

It won't be an easy path, or a quick path, said Rubio. And it won't open up until the government demonstrates progress on the other three central portions of the immigration reform bill - border security, employer verification, and the "entry-exit" system to track visa holders.

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"In essence, for those who are undocumented in this country...they will have to wait until those three things are fully implemented," he explained. "If they're not fully implemented, there will be no green cards awarded. And we think that will be incentive" for the government to follow through.

Rubio also emphasized that undocumented residents who begin the path to citizenship will not enjoy any advantage over those who followed the legal immigration process, saying it's not a "special" path - it's the same path everyone else takes.

And it's certainly better than the status quo, he said on "Face the Nation."

"Under existing law if you're illegally here, you can get a green card. It says you have to go back to your country of birth, you wait ten years, and then you apply for the green card," he explained. "All we're saying is, if you decide you want to stay here, you'll have to wait for more than 10 years... you won't qualify for any benefits, you'll have to pay taxes, you'll have to prove that you're not a public charge and, as I said, you'll have to wait longer than ten years to qualify for all of that. So I would argue that the existing law is actually more lenient."

In addition, the bill would set a cut-off date - only those who immigrants who arrived before December 31, 2011 would be eligible to travel the path to citizenship. Any undocumented immigrant who arrived after that date would be subject to deportation.