WASHINGTON - A group of House members - including Idaho's Raul Labrador - is close to introducing an immigration bill that would grant legal status to many of the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
The House proposal likely will stoke the already volatile debate on immigration as immigrants' advocates, union leaders and many Democrats - including President Barack Obama - have staked their ground on a path to citizenship being essential to any compromise.
Under the anticipated House proposal, no one would be barred permanently from citizenship, but they would be eligible only via pathways that already are available, including marriage, family or employment-based sponsorships.
WHAT WOULD IT DO?
Their proposed legislation, like the White House and Senate proposals, would beef up border security, establish a nationwide system to verify the legal status of workers, punish businesses that hire illegal immigrants and allow more agricultural and highly skilled immigrant workers to stay in the country.
"I will argue until my last breath for a pathway to citizenship that is quick and efficient because I want to end this chapter. I want to end it," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who's among the House's most outspoken advocates for immigrants. The goal, he said, is to have no permanent underclass.
"But let me say, conversely, I am as committed as any Republican to ending illegal immigration as we know it," he added.
Neither Gutierrez nor any member of the bipartisan group would confirm their involvement in the House team.
But those aware of the discussion say he's among a group of four Democrats and four Republicans.
Other members include Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, John Carter and Sam Johnson, both of Texas, and Democrats John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren, both of California.
Members of the House bipartisan team hope to release the bill before the Senate legislation, which is scheduled to be delivered at the end of the month, according to officials familiar with the team's proposal.
The Republican-led House is seen as the greatest obstacle to a comprehensive overhaul. Many conservative House members consider a path to citizenship as "amnesty," and an affront to the principles of the rule of law.
On the other side of the issue, many advocates responded in outrage last month after the Senate bipartisan team introduced its own proposal, which would offer a path to citizenship only after an independent assessment determined that the nation's borders were secure.
Several immigrant rights groups, including the National Council of La Raza and the National Immigration Law Center, urged Obama to reject that aspect of the Senate proposal, which would more than likely be seen as more sympathetic than the House version.
Under the House plan, many immigrants brought to the country as children, agricultural workers and highly skilled immigrants would likely be granted permanent residency. Then presumably they could apply for citizenship within a few years, as under the current system. How many years is unclear.
The bipartisan House group has been meeting for months behind the scenes to craft principles before working on the details of more specific legislation.
WASHINGTON -Homeland Security released the illegal immigrants, who were facing deportation, from its jails in recent weeks due to looming budget cuts. The agency planned to release 3,000 more during March, The Associated Press learned.
The newly disclosed figures, cited in internal budget documents reviewed by the AP, are significantly higher than the "few hundred" illegal immigrants the Obama administration acknowledged this week had been released.
The documents show that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released roughly 2,000 illegal immigrants from its jails since at least Feb. 15. The agency's field offices reported more than 2,000 immigrants released before intense criticism this week led to a temporary halt of the plan, according to the documents.
The White House said it was not consulted about the releases. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she regrets the manner in which they occurred.
As of last week, the average daily population in the agency's jails was 30,733. The internal budget documents reviewed by the AP show the Obama administration had intended to reduce those figures to 25,748 by March 31.
The White House did not comment Friday.