Seeking one last effort to jump-start the immigration debate and having lost the backing of the one Republican who had been talking with them, Senate Democrats on Thursday announced they will try to pass their own immigration bill this year.
The move comes a day after President Obama said there “may not be an appetite” for working on immigration on Capitol Hill this year, underscoring the tricky nature of the renewed push. But Democrats said they will try to draw Republican support, and that the proposal they released is just an opening.
“We’re offering this framework as an invitation, an invitation to solve this problem,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in issuing a challenge to the Republicans.
He shied away from a timeline for actually forcing a floor debate, saying instead that he will have to find some Republicans willing to work with him - a commodity that has been in short supply, particularly on this issue.
The new framework calls for more immigration agents both at the border and in the country’s interior, and the Democrats who wrote the plan said illegal immigrants won’t gain legal status until after those numbers are increased. But the broad proposal did not include any specific targets, nor did it explain whether illegal immigrants will continue to be deported in the meantime.
Still, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has taken the lead on this issue, said they have taken steps to accommodate Republicans who are demanding the borders be secured first.
“Our framework is ‘fix the border first, but don’t just fix the border,’ ” he said.
The bill would grant legal status to any illegal immigrant in the country at the time a bill is eventually introduced, and would make them wait until the current line of people waiting lawfully for immigrant status is cleared. Illegal immigrants would have to pay fines and demonstrate English skills to gain citizenship.
Mr. Schumer said some Republicans are interested in learning more about the framework, but none has stepped forward to join the effort yet.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who had been working with Mr. Schumer, announced earlier this week that he is convinced the borders need more work right now. He said a broad immigration bill might be able to pass by 2012.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, called the Democrats’ push a “cynical game.”
“We should build up the border fence, stop the waves of drug violence that are spilling across our borders, and deploy all reasonable efforts to stop illegal immigration into the country,” he said. “Then, and only then, will we begin to win back the trust of the American people and be in a position to start a constructive dialogue on the correct way to reform our immigration policies.”
Mr. Obama seemed to be cool to the prospects for a bill this week, telling reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday night that he had given Congress a number of tasks during his tenure and said he wasn’t sure how willing they would be to tackle immigration this year. He also said Congress shouldn’t take up immigration strictly to force a political fight.
On Thursday, though, even as Mr. Reid and his allies were announcing their new plan, the president released a statement saying he will “play an active role in engaging partners on both sides of the aisle” on trying to write a full bill.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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