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Senators Unveil Sweeping US Immigration Bill

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(AP) US lawmakers formally unveiled a sweeping immigration bill at a news conference Thursday attended by traditional opponents from big business and labor, and conservative and liberal groups.
 
The Senate lawmakers, four Democrats and four Republicans, argued that this time, thanks to broad-based support, immigration legislation can succeed in Congress.
 
"Powerful outside forces have helped defeat certain other initiatives in Washington, but on immigration, the opposite is proving true," Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leading Democrat, said a day after senators under intense lobbying pressure blocked a major gun control package. "I am confident this issue will not fall victim to the usual partisan deadlock."
 
Support for the bill is already being put to the test as conservatives grow more vocal in opposition. Two Republican senators held a dueling news conference, with law enforcement officials bashing the bill's border security provisions and other measures, and several conservative bloggers seized on one provision of the legislation to falsely claim that it would allow people here illegally to get free cellphones.
 
The 844-page bill is designed to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country while requiring employers to verify their legal status, and put 11 million people here illegally on a path to citizenship, as long as certain border security goals are met first.
 
While debate starts in the Democratic-controlled Senate, the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Republican-led House.
 
Conservatives who form a core part of the Republican party have taken a tough line on immigration and many Republicans have to worry about challenges from conservatives within their party rather than general election races against Democrats. All House members are up for re-election every two years; senators have six-year terms.
 
But some Republicans are showing signs of altering their position on immigration after losing the Hispanic vote in the 2012 elections. Hispanics are becoming an increasingly important voting bloc in U.S. elections and overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama in the November voting.
 
Having suffered a defeat on one of his highest priorities when the gun control passage went down, Obama will be looking for da victory on immigration overhaul as he seeks to burnish a legacy in his second term of office.
 
Speaking of people living in the U.S. illegally, a leading border state Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said at the news conference:  "Yes, we offer a path to citizenship to people who didn't come here legally . They're here, and realistically there is nothing we can do to induce them all to return to their countries of origin. Many of them make valuable contributions."
 
In addition to Schumer and McCain, the members of the so-called Gang of Eight are: Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, along with Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
 
Rubio, the son of Cuban-American immigrants, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012.  
 
The bill will get its first hearing Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
Standing behind the senators at the news conference was a who's-who of Washington conservative and liberal leaders, representatives from religious groups, Latino activist organizations and others.
 
Before the senators came to the podium, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist shook hands with labor federation leader Richard Trumka, then exchanged pleasantries with Neera Tanden, head of the liberal Center for American Progress. They were joined by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, about two dozen in all.
 
Many of the advocates and senators present were veterans of past failed efforts at reform, most notably in 2007, when legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush collapsed on the Senate floor amid a ferocious public backlash and interest-group opposition.
 
Asked why an immigration overhaul would succeed this time, McCain turned and pointed to the advocates arrayed behind him.
 
"This is a coalition. I never thought I'd be standing with Richard Trumka," McCain said, referring to the labor leader.  "This is why we will succeed."
 
The alliances the senators painstakingly knit together are  different this time, but the political climate is better too. Polls also show majority public support for a path to citizenship for those here illegally.
 
But in some corners opposition remains strong. Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions and David Vitter along with several law enforcement officials held a news conference at almost the same time as the Gang of Eight members to dismiss their claims of improved border enforcement and security.
 
"Like 2007, this bill is amnesty before enforcement," Sessions said. "The day the bill passes illegal immigrants will have the presumption of amnesty and all (Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano) has to do is submit a vague plan in six months that may never get implemented."

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