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Democrats unveil immigration-reform proposal

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 8:12 PM

Senate Democrats officially unveiled a proposal to reform America's immigration system on Thursday, looking past the fact that no Republican has offered support for the effort and President Obama a day earlier played down the chances of legislation passing this year.

Seeking to woo Republicans, the 26-page framework, which has not yet been written into a formal bill, emphasizes first taking steps to limit illegal immigration before offering new rights for those here illegally. But the REPAIR (Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform) proposal, as Democrats dubbed it, also would create a pathway to legal status for an estimated 10.8 million people who are already in the country illegally, an idea opposed by many conservatives.

Under the proposal, illegal immigrants currently in the United States would be eligible for legal status in eight years, as long as they learned English, had not committed a crime and paid their taxes. The federal government would increase funding for border security and require all American workers get a new version of their Social Security card that would include a biometric identifier to protect against the creation of counterfeits.

"I say to my Republican colleagues, work with us to fix this broken system, don't just say no," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a Thursday evening press conference.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama called the proposal "a very important step in the process of fixing out nation's broken immigration system."

But the only Republican who had been negotiating with Democrats on the issue, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), criticized the proposal, saying "it is our belief that Congress should focus on border security first," in a joint statement with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

And House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.) dismissed the proposal as a"cynical ploy to try to engage voters, some segment of voters, to show up in this November's elections." Republicans have suggested Reid is pushing the bill to gain the support of the large segment of Latino voters in his state, where polls showing him flagging in his re-election campaign.

"There is not a chance that immigration is going to move through the Congress," Boehner said. "You cannot do a serious piece of legislation of this size, with this difficulty, in this environment."

Reform Immigration for America, a group helping organize rallies this weekend to promote legislation similar to what the Democrats are proposing, praised the outline and called on both the Obama administration and the Republicans to embrace it.

"This is not a political game, and Republicans can not simply be the party of obstruction. They must offer solutions," the group said in a statement. They added, "The White House must play a stronger and more high profile role."

Senate Democrats say it was vital for Congress to pass new immigration soon in the wake of the passage of a controversial law in Arizona that allows calls on local and state law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally, and which makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.

"The urgency of immigration reform cannot be overstated," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the main authors of the proposal.

Obama told reporters on Wednesday there may "not be an appetite" in Congress to get immigration done this year.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was similarly noncommittal on Thursday, saying "the legislation will have to begin in the Senate. And she passed the baton back to Obama.

"If there is going to be any movement in this regard, it will require presidential leadership," she said.

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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