Senate group to focus on immigration reform

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WASHINGTON -- The White House and a bipartisan group of senators will launch an effort next week to jump-start negotiations to overhaul the immigration system, an issue that has languished in Washington for years.

Obama will begin his second-term immigration push during a trip Tuesday to Las Vegas. The Senate working group also is aiming to outline its proposals about the same time, according to a Senate aide.

Even before those plans are formally unveiled, there is emerging consensus on several components, most notably the need for some kind of pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.

The proposals will set the stage for what could be a contentious and emotional debate. Last November, Latino voters turn out in large numbers to re-elect Obama -- a signal to many Republican leaders that the party needs to change its posture on immigration.

The aim of the Senate group is to draft an immigration bill by March and pass legislation in the Senate by August, said the aide, who was not authorized to discuss private deliberations and requested anonymity. The Republican-controlled House would also need to pass the legislation before it went to the White House for the president's signature.

For Obama, a successful push on immigration reform would be a promise kept to the Latino community after he disappointed many by failing to push the issue in his first term. The president met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House yesterday to discuss his upcoming proposals.

"The time to act on comprehensive immigration reform is now," said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.)

Administration officials say Obama favors a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increased border security, mandatory penalties for businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants and improvements to the legal immigration system.

Details of the Senate proposals remain unclear, but the principles are expected to address a process toward legalizing the status of unauthorized immigrants, border security, verification measures for employers hiring workers and ways for more temporary workers to be admitted into the country.

We have basic agreement on many of the core principles," Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Senate group working on a bill, said this week. "Now we have to draft it. It takes time."

"The group we've been meeting with -- and it's equal number of Democrats and Republicans -- we're real close," added Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), another member of the group.

With The Washington Post

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