Byron York
Members of the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight stress that under their new immigration plan, currently illegal immigrants will have to wait more than a decade before achieving citizenship. Newly legalized immigrants will be given a provisional status and "will have to stay in that status until at least 10 years elapse and (border security) triggers are met," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News on April 14. After that, Rubio said, they'll have to wait longer for a green card and, ultimately, citizenship.

Unless they don't. A little-noticed exception in the Gang of Eight bill provides a fast track for many -- possibly very many -- currently illegal immigrants. Under a special provision for immigrants who have labored at least part-time in agriculture, that fast track could mean permanent residency in the U.S., and then citizenship, in half the time Rubio said. And not just for the immigrants themselves -- their spouses and children, too.

First the agricultural workers. The Gang of Eight bill creates something called a blue card, which would be granted to illegal immigrant farm workers who come forward and pass the various background checks the bill requires for all illegal immigrants. Instead of the 10-year wait Rubio described in media appearances, blue card holders could receive permanent legal status in just five years.

How does an illegal immigrant qualify for a blue card? If, after passing the background checks, he can prove that he has worked in agriculture for at least 575 hours -- about 72 eight-hour days -- sometime in the two years ending December 31, 2012, he can be granted a blue card. That's it. His spouse and children can be granted blue cards, too -- it can all be done with one application.

The bill's supporters point out that the Gang of Eight would limit the period of time in which illegal immigrants can apply for a blue card. That's true; the bill specifies that applications have to be filed in the year after the last of the rules enforcing the new immigration law have gone into effect. But the bill also gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to extend that period by another year and a half if she or he determines that "additional time is required" for the applications. The extension can also be granted for any other "good cause."


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner