U.S. Senate immigration reform backers seek quick action

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 28, 2013 8:46pm GMT

(L-R) U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) attend a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

(L-R) U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) attend a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators who have agreed on an immigration reform plan said on Monday they hope to move quickly with legislation giving 11 million illegal immigrants a chance to eventually become American citizens.

The four Democrats and four Republicans released the outline of a comprehensive immigration reform effort - one with plenty of details missing - that still must be turned into legislation.

At a news conference on the proposal, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, one of the eight working on the initiative, said he hoped it could be passed by the Senate in late spring or early summer.

In an attempt to build support among lawmakers, the Senate proposal would couple immigration reform with enhanced security efforts aimed at preventing illegal immigration and ensuring that those foreigners here temporarily return home when their visas expire.

A Republican member of the group, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said he hoped for an overwhelming vote of support in the Senate, which could enhance chances of a bill passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

But Graham also warned, "If for some reason we fail in our efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, I do believe it will be many years before anyone is willing to try and solve this problem."

The plan, which faces an uncertain future in Congress, was unveiled a day before President Barack Obama was to give a policy speech on immigration in Nevada.

With Republicans regrouping after November elections in which they failed to garner significant support from Hispanic voters, there are other indications immigration reform could be on a fast track in the newly convened 113th Congress.

A bipartisan group in the House also is close to unveiling its own immigration proposals, according to the congressional source with knowledge of the reform efforts.

The source said the House group could detail its outline either later this week or next week.

No one expects an easy path for any of the proposals, which are still being developed and lack detail.

The last comprehensive revision of the nation's immigration law was in 1986. Numerous efforts since then have encountered stiff resistance, especially from the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which as recently as the Republican presidential primary races in 2012 opposed anything resembling an "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants.

"When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration," warned Republican Representative Lamar Smith, who is the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

With the electoral power of Hispanic voters growing rapidly, however, leading Republicans have been urging conservatives to rethink both their positions and their rhetoric.

The Senate group included Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed his support for the effort.

Under its proposal, undocumented immigrants would be allowed to register with the government, pay a fine, and then be given probationary legal status allowing them to work.

Ultimately, they would have to "go to the end of the line" and apply for permanent status.

The White House praised the group's efforts but warned that Obama would not be satisfied until there was meaningful reform. The president "will continue to urge Congress to act until that is achieved," a White House spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Tim Gaynor in Arizona; Editing by Fred Barbash and Doina Chiacu)

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