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A delay in finishing work on a comprehensive immigration overhaul could threaten the recent momentum for Congress to take on the issue.
A bipartisan group of eight senators has been working since January on a bill, and they expect to unveil their package the week of April 8.
But the group has come under criticism recently from prominent Democrats and Republicans — including Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa — as well as advocates of immigration policy changes. The complaints range from the group’s decision to craft the bill behind closed doors to the failure of the eight to release their proposal in March, as they had previously pledged.
And even though members of the “gang of eight” say they are on track to release a bill in two weeks, their public pronouncements are more hopeful than definitive.
On the flip side, the group’s effort appears to be gaining ground with key conservatives. Just this week Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., came out in favor of comprehensive policy changes, including providing a path to citizenship, and the Republican National Committee urged support for tackling an overhaul.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the immigration group, stressed that it’s a complex issue and it has taken time to find a bipartisan solution.
“I think most of our colleagues understand the complexity of this challenge,” Durbin said. “This is not a matter that you can just put together a bill, put it in a committee and expect it to be reported out.”
Durbin added, “We are still working on the measure and we are hoping to come to an agreement on most parts of it before we leave [for recess] and when we return, if everything works well, we’ll be able to announce a bill.”
A major immigration rally on the West Front of the Capitol is planned for April 10, and the Senate group may want to present its measure before that.
Taking too long to draft a measure or get the bill to the floor could threaten its support — particularly among the Republicans needed to pass it — by giving opponents time to find flaws with the package or the process.
Durbin said members of the group hope to talk to Leahy, who said in a statement Wednesday that he believes the Judiciary Committee will not be able to take up the measure until May, because of the group of eight’s failure to unveil it in March.