Sen. Lee 'not able' to support bipartisan immigration framework

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Lee released a statement announcing his opposition to the framework Monday afternoon, after the eight senators formally unveiled their blueprint. 

"I remain greatly supportive of what the group aims to accomplish and will continue to work with my colleagues to solve many of the challenges this important issue presents," Lee says in the statement. "Although I am encouraged by the process and continue to support efforts to make real progress on immigration reform, I am not able to sign the statement of principles released today."

Lee had originally been involved in crafting the framework but recently walked away from the negotiations because he does not support a plan that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The blueprint includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, something Lee has always opposed. The guidelines also call for increasing the total available visas for highly skilled workers, starting a guest-worker program, setting up an employ verification program and strengthening border security.

"We all support enhanced border security, stronger visa enforcement, effective employment verification measures, and humane treatment of those lacking legal status," Lee says in the statement. "I believe the overwhelming majority of Congress could work together to enact significant and lasting reforms, particularly to strengthen border security and fix our legal immigration system."

Lee said he supported the goal of the bipartisan group but could not, in the end, support the outline.

"These guidelines contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country," Lee continues in the statement. "Reforms to our complex and dysfunctional immigration system should not in any way favor those who came here illegally over the millions of applicants who seek to come here lawfully.

"Additionally, the framework carves out a special exception for agricultural workers that has little justification," Lee said. "Maintaining the safety of America’s food supply is an important goal, but it is unclear why immigrants in this sector should achieve special status over skilled workers in industries equally important to the American economy.

Lee suggested that he would soon introduce an alternative to the framework.

"I will be formulating an approach that deals with points of agreement on several issues, with special attention to addressing border security and fixing our legal immigration system before we create special categories for those here illegally," Lee added. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on these proposals."