Members of the “Gang of Eight” tasked with carving out a comprehensive immigration package said Wednesday that they hope to file a bill when they return to Washington from their Easter break, and suggested that they are on the verge of a deal between business and labor leaders on visas for low-skilled workers.
The high-profile immigration talks stalled out last week when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO failed to agree on the details of a proposed guest-worker program, a snag that has bogged down ongoing negotiations.
But after touring the border on Wednesday, Democrats Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, as well as Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, sounded optimistic about their chances of filing a bill next month.
“Bottom line, we’re very close,” Mr. Schumer told reporters. “I’d say we’re 90 percent there. We have a few little problems, we’ve been on the phone all day with our four other colleagues.”
The group also includes Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
They are working to convince the public and lawmakers to get on board with their plan, which grants a legal status to the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants on Day One, but requires the border be deemed secure before anybody living here illegally gets a pathway to citizenship.
The biggest hurdle, though, has been bridging the divide between business and labor leaders over the details of how best to revamp the nation’s guest-worker program — a fight that also helped derail comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.
The senators had hoped to hammer out those differences and roll out their proposal before their two-week break, and they appeared to be on track to meet their self-imposed deadline.
But the talks broke down when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO knocked heads over how much workers would be paid as part of a proposed new visa program that would bring as many as 200,000 lower-skilled workers into the country each year.
Mr. McCain said the final product likely will be a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow.
“Nobody is going to be totally happy with this legislation, no one will be because we have to make compromises,” Mr. McCain said.
The trip also provided the senators with a firm reminder of the magnitude of the legislative challenges before them, as well as the difficulty involved in securing the border, when they watched a woman during a tour of the Mexican border scale over a fence.
“Just witnessed a woman successfully climb an 18-ft bollard fence a few yards from us in,” Mr. McCain said via Twitter. “Border Patrol successfully apprehended her, but incident is another reminder that threats to our border security are real.”
Mr. Schumer said the overall experience of going to the border for the first time will help him educate his colleagues, and sell them on their plan.
“You can read and you can study and you can talk but until you see things it doesn’t change reality,” Mr. Schumer said. “I’ll be able to explain it to my colleagues. Many of my colleagues say, ‘Why do we need to do anything more on the border?’ and we do.”