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House Democrats Ready to Unveil Ambitious Immigration Plan

House proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are set to unveil an ambitious bill Tuesday that calls for a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants, family reunification policies and another push for the controversial AgJOBS program, which would grant temporary immigration status to undocumented farm workers.Some backers of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), readily admit the measure is their ideal version of reform and is not likely to be what ultimately would pass into law. In contrast to their efforts in 2007, when they unsuccessfully pushed a bipartisan package, advocates are kicking off debate this time with a solidly Democratic plan.“It’s a very important marker,— said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has already endorsed the plan. “It gives us a rallying point. … We understand that down the road we’re going to have to compromise, but we’d rather negotiate from here than starting at the bottom like we did last time. It’s a strategic move,— Grijalva said.Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is taking the lead on the issue in the Senate, but his plan is expected to be far less liberal and to include some GOP support. Even though the Senate is likely to move first on the issue, after Schumer unveils his bill early next year, House lawmakers are ready to get the ball rolling now. “We felt like … ‘We’re going to sit around and wait and then we’re going to have to react to whatever he does?’ There are going to be things we don’t like. So let’s go on the offense, let’s have our bill, and when Schumer does whatever he’s doing in the Senate, at least we have a point of reference,— Grijalva said.Leadership appears to be on board with the approach: One Democratic lawmaker familiar with discussions on the issue said Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) has already given his commitment to the group that he will hold hearings in February on the bill.Schumer and Gutierrez, along with key supporters, are meeting next week to go over differences in their bills, which have been crafted largely apart from each other. “Everything’s going very well. Full steam ahead,— Gutierrez said ahead of Tuesday’s unveiling of his measure, which is being kept under wraps until then. “We’ve said that this bill will be to immigration what the public option was to health care. It will be progressive, it will be expansive, it will be compassionate and it will be comprehensive.—Gutierrez said he has started talking to Republicans about trying to win their support, though he said he still hasn’t talked to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), with whom he co-sponsored the 2007 bill.Some critics were already shooting down the prospect of giving illegal immigrants a path to legalization, particularly at a time of such high unemployment.“I think their argument that nobody wants these jobs [currently held by illegal immigrants] has melted away,— said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), chairman of the conservative Immigration Reform Caucus. “Their biggest problem is that everything’s conditioned on first giving amnesty to the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants and that’s sort of a nonstarter.—Bilbray, whose San Diego district includes a large Latino population, speculated that public opposition to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants has “absolutely not— waned in recent years. In addition, he shot down the idea that Republicans may feel pressure to support such reforms to avoid angering Hispanic voters before the 2010 midterm elections.The reality is that it will be politically “catastrophic— for Democrats if they push the issue now because of the position it puts rank-and-file blue-collar Democrats in, Bilbray said.“They’re being squeezed by Wall Street and now Pennsylvania Avenue. They’re getting caught in between,— the California Republican said. If they vote to support a path to legalization for illegal immigrants, their constituents will want to know whether they are supporting “U.S. citizens or are they shopping for cheap labor and cheap votes?—

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