(L-R) Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) attend a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 28, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)
The "Gang of Eight," the bipartisan group of senators working on crafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would offer a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, is working behind closed doors to meet a self-imposed end-of-the-month deadline.
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This week, President Obama told a group of religious leaders that he wants a bill from Congress within 60 days, a tight schedule given that the Senate bill will need to be approved by the Judiciary Committee, then the entire Senate, and then pass muster in the much more conservative House before then.
The senators have already acknowledged that their bill may have to wait until mid April, after a Senate recess, if they cannot come to an agreement before the end of March.
Still, the negotiations are said to be moving smoothly and quickly. The senators have already agreed on offering a path to citizenship, provided additional measures are taken to ensure border security, that would speed applications for citizenship already in progress and allow undocumented immigrants to get in line at the end of the queue, a process that could still take several years.
But most proponents admit it is a better option for the undocumented than deportation or continuing to live in the shadows of society.
Each senator brings their own expertise and pet issues to the table. While Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York lead the effort, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey has insisted on measures to help reunite families kept apart by draconian immigration requirements.
Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois has focused on the DREAM Act, which favors legalization for immigrants brought to the country as children.
And Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is working with business groups who want to ensure an unrestricted flow of skilled labor into the country.
At issue now is how strongly businesses must police their hiring practices, and what kind of penalties businesses will face for hiring undocumented immigrants. Business leaders balk at being entirely responsible for determining an applicant's immigration status.
The outlook for a deal is good. Republicans know that if an agreement cannot be reached soon, Democrats will move forward with Obama's more lenient bill, which is not dependent on increased border security, which the administration says is already adequate. It would also make same-sex partners of American residents eligible for sponsorship.
House Republicans may not be happy with the bill that comes out of the Senate, but the knowledge that an even more progressive bill waits in the wings may push many of them to accept what they can get, especially as the Republican Party tries to make its platform more palatable to immigrants and minorities, particularly the growing Latino community, which voted overwhelmingly for Obama in last year's presidential election.