A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House is approaching a deal on immigration reform that would tighten border security, crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers, and extend a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, aides tell the Associated Press.
The House negotiations have largely been drowned out by the high-profile immigration reform effort in the Senate being spearheaded by a bipartisan "gang of eight." But the signs of action are significant nonetheless - an indication that the conservative Republican House wants play ball and leave its mark on the final parameters of any immigration deal.
The Senate is expected to act first, releasing its bill as early as next week. A House lawmaker involved in the process said the lower chamber's bill could arrive within the next week or two.
"We have legislative language that we'll be ready to go forward on - not concepts, but actual language," said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, on "Capital Tonight," a cable news program on channel YNN in Central Texas.
A crucial difference between the Senate's approach and the House's likely approach: the more conservative House envisions a longer path to citizenship than that sought by the Senate or White House.
Two House aides with knowledge of the negotiations told the Associated Press that the bill offers several solutions to undocumented residents. Those brought to the country as young children could trek an expedited path to citizenship, and agricultural workers would also be eligible for a separate path to citizenship.
The millions of other undocumented immigrants in America would be forced to pay a fine and back taxes and get a criminal background check to qualify for a renewable work permit. After 10 years, they could apply for a green card; after five years, under current law, green card holders could apply for citizenship.
That span - 15 years - is two years longer than the path envisioned by the Senate, which has drafted a bill containing a 13-year path to citizenship. Legislation drawn up by the White House as a fallback plan in case congressional negotiations stall also contains a 13-year path to citizenship.
Despite their differences, the two chambers' bills share much in common, including a mandatory E-Verify system to allow employers to check the legal status of their workers and a series of border security metrics that must be met before the path to citizenship opens up.
The Senate bill has been gathering steam for months now, driven chiefly by the "gang of eight" lawmakers who have met regularly to hammer out the specifics of a compromise. Their efforts were given an assist last week when business and labor groups announced the broad outlines of a deal on a temporary guest worker program - a controversial element of comprehensive immigration reform that has scuttled past legislative efforts.
Business groups have long demanded a guest worker program as any part of a legislative compromise, arguing that their bottom line will be maligned if the government simply bars the door against any future migrant workers. But unions have fretted that an influx of cheap workers would unfairly crowd domestic job seekers out of the labor market.
The agreement in principle reached by business and labor negotiators seemed to offer a tentative sign that immigration talks were on track, removing one of the biggest impediments to an eventual deal. But Politico reported on Wednesday that several elements of the business community, notably the construction industry, were not happy with the compromise, which was negotiated chiefly by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy group, and the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of labor unions.
On Wednesday, according to Politico, representatives of the construction industry said they were "deeply concerned" about the guest worker program, which caps the number of visas offered to construction workers, saying the visa limit was "simply unrealistic and destined to fail."