- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2013

The White House on Monday hailed signs of progress from the so-called Gang of Eight senators working on the bipartisan immigration reform bill, but declined to weigh in on any specifics of the deal until it’s officially announced.

“I would say broadly that we are encouraged by the continuing signs of progress that we are seeing in the Senate as the Group of Eight … more broadly works on comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. Carney said, though he said the negotiators are “not there yet.”

“We will evaluate the specific aspects of that legislation when it is produced,” the spokesman said.

The eight senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — have been negotiating since the start of this year on what would be the first major immigration overhaul in nearly three decades.

They want to beef up border security and interior enforcement, while also granting a pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S. — though they said that process could take more than a decade.

Mr. Carney wouldn’t say whether Mr. Obama would accept that time frame, which many immigrant-rights advocates argue is too long and uncertain. Instead, he reiterated Mr. Obama’s key principles for immigration reforms and said he believes the progress being made in the Senate reflects those principles.

Over the weekend, two of the negotiators said a final deal is imminent.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” he is “very, very optimistic” that they will finalize a bill in about a week, and Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I think we’ve got a deal.”

“We’ve got to write the legislation, but 2013, I hope, will be the year that we pass bipartisan immigration reform,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Democrats are hoping to push the bill through the Judiciary Committee this month and have it on the Senate floor next month.

But Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is one of the eight senators working on the agreement, said such plans are premature. He said even when they do reach a deal, it will require more hearings in the Senate, and will demand a long and open amendment process.

“We will need a healthy public debate that includes committee hearings and the opportunity for other senators to improve our legislation with their own amendments,” the Florida Republican said.

The negotiations got a boost over the weekend when two of the county’s most influential business and labor groups struck an agreement on guest-worker rules, overcoming one of the biggest hurdles that had sunk previous efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the weekend announced they had reached a deal on how to allow nonseasonal low-skilled migrant workers into the country. The chamber satisfied labor’s main concern by ensuring that businesses couldn’t offer lower wages to the workers than prevailing American wage levels.

Starting April 1, 2015, a new “W” visa program would allow 20,000 workers into the country in the first year with that number increasing gradually and ultimately being capped at 200,000 a year.

Despite the chamber’s backing, other business advocates said the deal is too small in scope and skewed toward labor unions’ concerns.

“In the early 2000s, when the economy was booming, more than 350,000 unauthorized immigrants entered the U.S. every year to work. Even in 2011, with the economy still sluggish and uncertain, the number was 150,000,” said ImmigrationWorks USA President Tamar Jacoby. “But the new program will start by admitting only 20,000 workers a year and will never, no matter how robust the economy, issue more than 200,000 visas annually.”

⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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