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Bush, Bipartisan Group Crafting Immigration Bill, Irking Some in GOP

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has been meeting with the White House in hopes of drafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation by mid-March, but those efforts are coming under fire from some Republicans, Congressional aides said today.

Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who were at the center of last year’s ill-fated immigration compromise in the Senate, have been in talks with the White House to produce draft legislation that could find additional support in the newly Democratic Congress. Lawmakers last year failed to reconcile major House and Senate differences in immigration bills and the proposed overhaul died.

House Members involved in talks are Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who headed the subcommittee during the last Congress.

But that has rankled some Republicans. GOP Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) — the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a supporter of the comprehensive plan last year — complained this week that they had been frozen out of the process of drafting this year’s bill.

As a result, Brownback said he would team up with other Republicans, including Specter, and Sens. Mel Martinez (Fla.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.), to work on the issue and perhaps introduce their own bill.

Last year, Kyl led a team of Senators that opposed the comprehensive bill supported by Specter, Brownback and Martinez.

Brownback explained the strategy of partnering with Kyl, saying in an interview, “If we can get a bill that all of us can agree to and hold 40 votes together, then we can have a real debate on the issue. Like last year, you still need 60 votes.” Sixty votes would be needed overcome a filibuster.

This year’s version of the legislation will contain the main elements of last year’s Senate legislation, said Laura Capps, a Kennedy spokeswoman.

“The basic concepts are intact,” she said.

Those elements, she said, include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States who meet several requirements, including working in the country for several years, paying a penalty, paying back taxes, and learning English and civics. They would also would have to “get at the back of the line” behind immigrants already seeking citizenship, she added.

The bill also will call for enhanced border security, tighter requirements for employers to verify worker eligibility and a system to allow workers to enter legally into the United States to satisfy labor needs.

The “path to citizenship” provision was at the center of controversy during last year’s immigration debate, with many Republicans arguing that it effectively granted amnesty to illegal immigrants.

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