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Immigration reform would cut deficit, analysis shows

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WASHINGTON (AP) About 8 million immigrants living unlawfully in the United States would initially gain legal status under sweeping legislation moving toward a vote in the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, adding the bill would push federal deficits lower in each of the next two decades.

The eagerly awaited report by Congress' non-partisan scorekeeping agency said the legislation would increase federal spending in the form of benefits for those gaining legal status, but those expenses would be more than offset by a rise in the labor force, increasing revenues.

Supporters of the legislation said the report would add to the momentum behind a measure that toughens border security at the same time it holds out the hope of citizenship to millions who came to the United States illegally or overstayed their visas.

The CBO said deficits would fall by $197 billion across a decade, and by $700 billion in the following 10 years if the bill became law. The assessment came as the pace of activity increased at both ends of the Capitol on an issue that President Barack Obama has placed at the top of his domestic agenda.

Challenged by protesters chanting "shame, shame," House Republicans advanced legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the United States, at the same time the Senate lurched ahead on a dramatically different approach offering the hope of citizenship to the same millions.

Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said the bill moving through the House Judiciary Committee was part of a "step by step, increment by increment" approach to immigration, an issue that can pit Republican against Republican as much if not more than it divides the two political parties.

California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren predicted there would be "millions of American citizens taking to the street" in protest if Republicans pressed ahead with the bill. The measure permits state and local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws and requires mandatory detention for anyone in the country illegally who is convicted of drunk driving.

Despite the protests, approval by the committee was a foregone conclusion. The panel's chairman, Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said future bills would require companies to make sure their employees are living in the United States legally, create a program for foreign farm workers who labor in the United States and enhance the ability of American firms to hire highly skilled workers from overseas.

Those steps and more are already rolled into one sweeping measure in the Senate, a bipartisan bill that Obama supports and that appears on track for a final Senate vote as early as July 4.

In a series of votes during the day, the Senate rejected a move by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to require the installation of 350 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border before legalization can begin for anyone currently in the United States illegally.

Similarly, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to prevent legalization until a biometric system is in place to track people entering or leaving the country through air, sea or land points of departure.

Those proposals were overshadowed by a larger debate over the types of border security requirements the legislation should contain. Republicans generally want to toughen the existing measure, particularly since the bill includes a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally »(EURO)" a provision that sparks opposition from voters who could be influential in GOP primaries in next year's mid-term elections.