White House: Leaked Immigration Bill is Plan B

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 17 2013 1:26 PM

White House Circulating Immigration Plan in Case Congressional Negotiations Fail

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Newly minted White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the pressure was on Congress to draft a bipartisan bill to reform the nation's immigration laws

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The White House is preparing its own immigration reform proposal so it can have something ready in case talks in Capitol Hill “break down,” the president’s newly minted chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said on Sunday. His comments came as USA Today reported on a leak of a White House draft bill that would purportedly allow illegal immigrants to seek permanent legal residency within eight years. Senate Republicans quickly pushed back against the plan Sunday, but McDonough made it clear that the White House is only readying its own plan in case the so-called “gang of eight,” a group that includes Sens. John McCain, Chuck Schumer, and Marco Rubio, fails to push a bipartisan deal, reports CBS News.

Under the plan reported in USA Today, which an administration official told CNN is generally accurate, the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants could seek a “lawful prospective immigrant visa," a new category that would allow them to live and work without fear of deportation for at least four years. Immigrants in the new category could then apply for a green card within eight years if they learn English and “the history and government of the United States” and pay back taxes. In order to qualify, illegal immigrants would have to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information, and pay fees. The bill also calls for increased checks on legal status of workers and for an unspecified increase in border control agents.

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Republicans immediately dismissed the draft bill as unrealistic. "If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come," Rubio said in a statement, according to Fox News.

Rubio also called the proposal “half-baked and seriously flawed.” He was hardly alone. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on Fox News that the leaked plan “shows me he is really not serious … the bill won’t pass,” adding it’s far from what the country wants on immigration.

McDonough responded that if Republicans are so opposed to the White House plan, they better be prepared to work toward a bipartisan solution. "Let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed,” he said on ABC. “Let’s make sure that that group up there, the ‘Gang of Eight,’ makes the good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to.”

The details of the president’s plans outlined in USA Today are similar to a statement of principles that the White House gave reporters after Obama’s speech on immigration in Las Vegas last month, points out the New York Times. That fact sheet said the president wanted to provide “earned citizenship” while strengthening border security and target employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

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Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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