• White House continues work on immigration bill
     | February 18,2013

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said Sunday morning that the administration had privately drafted an immigration bill so that it can “be ready” if lawmakers ultimately fail to agree on their own version of an overhaul of existing laws.

    But the chief of staff, Denis McDonough, the president’s top White House official, said Obama’s aides are continuing to work with a bipartisan group of eight senators despite harsh criticism on Saturday night from a key Republican after a newspaper reported what it said were details of the administration’s plan.

    “We’ve not proposed anything to Capitol Hill yet,” McDonough said on the ABC News program “This Week” in his first appearance as chief of staff. “We’re just going to be ready. We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed.”

    USA Today reported on Saturday that early drafts of the White House legislation called for immigrants to wait eight years before becoming permanent residents. The report drew a scathing response from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said the plan would be “dead on arrival” in Congress.

    “It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress,” Rubio said in a statement late Saturday night.

    The White House has declined to confirm the paper’s report, and McDonough did not say what specific proposals were in the president’s legislation. But he said they would be revealed if lawmakers could not reach an agreement.

    “He says it’s dead on arrival if proposed?” McDonough said of Rubio’s comments.

    “Well, let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed; let’s make sure that that group up there, the gang of eight, makes some good progress on these efforts, as much as they say they want to,” he said referring to the bipartisan group of senators. “That’s exactly what we intend to do, to work with them.”

    The USA Today report said that the president’s draft legislation would allow illegal immigrants to apply for a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa before they became eligible for permanent resident status.

    Those details are similar to the statement of principles that the White House provided to reporters after a speech Obama gave in Las Vegas last month concerning immigration. A fact sheet said the president wanted to strengthen border security, provide “earned citizenship,” streamline legal immigration and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

    “Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship,” the fact sheet said. “There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.”

    In his statement, Rubio criticized Obama, saying that the details reported in the USA Today article represented legislation that “is half-baked and seriously flawed.”

    “It would actually make our immigration problems worse,” he said.

    Rubio has been among the leading Republicans pushing for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration.

    Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that despite the criticism he remained optimistic about the chances of reaching a bipartisan agreement in March.

    “We’ve talked to Sen. Rubio, and he’s fully on board with our process,” Schumer said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that the president assured lawmakers last week that they should take the lead. “He agreed to give us the space we need to come up with a bipartisan proposal.”

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