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Bill allows for $150M in grants to sign up illegal immigrants to become citizens

A Washington group is criticizing the Senate immigration bill because it allows for up to $150 million for organizations to advertise citizenship opportunities and to help illegal immigrants sign up to become citizens.

The nonpartisan Center for Immigration Services calls the money “slush funds” and earlier this week cited several concerns -- particularly that the money can go to the same groups that helped craft the legislation and that the spending appears to have no cap or oversight.

“It’s virtually a blank check,” Jon Feere, a Center for Immigration Services legal policy analyst, told FoxNews.com. “And the groups that helped draft this bill can now give themselves taxpayer dollars.”

The money is divided into two parts. The first is $100 million in grants to public and private nonprofit groups for programs that help people apply for provisional immigrant status, which includes assistance with completing applications and gathering proof of identification.

The other part is $50 million for additional assistance that includes legal help and public-awareness campaigns that tell illegal immigrants about the “eligibility and benefits of registered immigration status.”

The 844-page bill calls for the grant programs to run through 2018 and be administered by the secretary of Homeland Security through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"Everybody wants to make sure that immigrants assimilate, and our proposal makes sure that they do by mandating that they speak English, pass civic tests and have jobs,” Alex Conant, a spokesman for Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, told FoxNews.com. “This bill is the start of the process, and we welcome suggestions for how it can be improved -- especially when it comes to insuring that taxpayer dollars are not wasted."

Rubio, a Cuban American, is a leader in the bipartisan group of eight senators that drafted the immigration reform legislation, which will impact roughly 11 people now living in the United States illegally.

Though the bill guidelines are specific regarding amounts and which types of groups are eligible, the Center for Immigration Services is also concerned about a provision that leaves open the possibility of addition taxpayer funding and another that says the money can be spent on “any other assistance” considered “useful or necessary.”  

“It seems to me, there’s a need for more guidelines,” Feere said. “Certainly this pro amnesty law is hard. … But one would think there would be volunteers to help immigrants fill out the paperwork.”

His group calls those that helped draft the legislation “pro amnesty lobbyists” and includes such names as La Raza, Casa de Maryland and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and critic of the Senate plan, said this week the bipartisan group has “refused” to provide estimates on how their legislation will impact the future migration of immigrants to the United States.

He says conservative estimates show more than 30 million immigrants will be granted legal status in the United States over the next 10 years, though the senators argue their plan “does not significantly increase long-term, annual migration.”

Sessions also argues the estimated 30 million will be able to bring relatives and that the legislation will bring in more low-skilled workers, not high-skilled ones, as the group has projected.

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