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Immigration Bill: Senate Group 'Close'

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Members of the bipartisan Senate group working on a sweeping immigration bill said they were rushing to introduce a bill as early as possible, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggesting that the measure could be wrapped up by the end of this week.

The newfound bullishness comes as senators and their aides are trying to reach consensus on some sticking points, among them a new visa program for agricultural workers, visas for high-tech workers and family unification visas.

“We’re still aiming for this week,” McCain said. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another member of the group, added, “If everything holds the way it is today, we’re very close.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the group was working to resolve the question of granting new temporary visas for highly skilled workers without harming American workers. “I wouldn’t characterize it as a big disagreement, but we’re still working on it,” he said.

Flake said he and other Republican members of the bipartisan group are expected to brief the GOP Steering Committee on the details Wednesday. “We have a regular [Wednesday] policy meeting at lunch, and it will be discussed at that time,” he said. Asked whether the full details of the bill would be provided, he said, “Such as we have.” Members have not yet received the legislative language back from staff who are drafting it, so it’s unclear how thorough the briefing will be, according to a source.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., also a group member, said, “I believe we are on track” to produce a bill by the end of the week.

The Democratic members of the group spoke at their caucus luncheon Tuesday and “provided an update on the process,” according to a Senate Democratic source.

The group has been working on the bill behind closed doors since January and has been criticized by some senators for not sharing details.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has been chief among those critics, said he was disappointed that the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue and of which he is a member, will not get an advance look at a bill it will have to consider before the entire Senate does. “The system doesn’t work well when a small group of senators produce a product and you have a very short period of time to review it,” he said.

His comments came after Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member on Judiciary, wrote to the Republican members of the group of eight, asking that their staff be put in contact with GOP committee staff by the end of Monday. That didn’t happen.

Immigration advocates and observers have been eagerly awaiting the bill for several weeks. The Senate group has repeatedly pushed back deadlines for introducing it.

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