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White House defends immigration proposal

WASHINGTON -- The White House pushed back yesterday against Republican criticisms that its draft immigration bill was flawed and counterproductive to congressional efforts to change the nation's immigration system.

Chief of staff Denis McDonough said the Obama administration was "very aggressively supporting" bipartisan immigration talks. He said the White House had not proposed a bill to Congress but was merely readying one in case lawmakers do not agree on their own.

"We're just going to be ready," McDonough said on ABC's "This Week." "We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed."

The draft administration bill, disclosed Saturday by USA Today, adds several new details to what President Barack Obama previously had said in public:

It would create a "lawful prospective immigrant" visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and establish a process to allow qualified applicants to become permanent residents within eight years.

It would provide for an unspecified increase in funding for border security.

It would require employers to develop a system to check the immigration status of new hires within four years.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of eight senators in a bipartisan group working on immigration overhaul, shot down the White House draft, calling it "half-baked and seriously flawed."

Rubio said Obama's bill doesn't do enough to secure America's borders and "creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally."

If actually proposed, the president's bill would be "dead on arrival in Congress," Rubio said in a statement.

McDonough did not address specific aspects of the bill.

But he said that Rubio "says it's 'dead on arrival' if it's proposed. Well, let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also a member of the group, accused Obama of developing his proposal without GOP input.

"This raises the question: 'Does the president really want a result, or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans so that he can get political advantage in the next election?' " McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged that a single-party proposal would have a much more difficult time becoming law and urged the bipartisan group to keep meeting to find common ground.

"The only way we're going to get something done is with a bipartisan agreement," he said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested Obama's proposals were going nowhere but added his party was evaluating its relationship with Hispanic voters, who backed Obama in November with 71 percent of their votes.

"I think people want a little different face on immigration, frankly," said Paul, who is considered among the 2016 presidential hopefuls. With AP

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