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Alternate Plan Devised for Immigration

Senate Democrats Pivot to Strategy for Moving Ahead Without GOP Support

Several House Democrats held a press conference Wednesday condemning Arizona’s immigration law. From left are Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Dennis Kucinich and Nydia Velázquez.

Senate Democrats appear dead set on moving comprehensive immigration reform this year even if it comes without GOP support, and they began laying the groundwork Wednesday for a Democrats-only alternative to a bipartisan deal.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) released a detailed summary of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The outline — which is based on negotiations between Schumer and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that collapsed earlier this month — would require a series of border security benchmarks to be met before broader reforms could be implemented.

The legislation includes tougher controls on the hiring of illegal immigrants, new work visa provisions and a pathway for citizenship.

Publicly, Democrats insisted Reid, Schumer and Menendez still are hoping to bring Republicans to the negotiating table this summer.

“This is a draft that reflects months of bipartisan work — it is not a Democrat-only bill but is intended to serve as an invitation to Republicans to look at it and sit down to solve problems with us,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

Indeed, the trio of Democratic leaders — along with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — met with the leaders of the nation’s largest Latino community groups and immigration reform organizations to discuss the plan. According to a leadership aide, during the meeting Reid and other leaders were expected to ask activists to take the summary to meetings with Republicans in hopes of coaxing them into backing the bill.

Privately, however, Democrats acknowledged that the summary is part of a broader contingency plan Reid, Schumer and Menendez are putting into place should Republicans not come into the fold.

One Democratic aide close to the issue noted that in the wake of Graham’s abandoning negotiations, Schumer is continuing to meet with a handful of Senate Republican lawmakers — Scott Brown (Mass.), George LeMieux (Fla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.) — and that the summary is part of a dual-track alternative for moving forward.

According to this aide, under the new alternative, if Republicans continue to reject bipartisan overtures, Reid, Schumer and Menendez would look to have a handful of other top Democrats co-sponsor the legislation, including Durbin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the second ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

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