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'Gang Of 8' Rolls Out Immigration Overhaul


Okay, we are continuing to follow the events in Boston this morning. Police there say one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers has been killed and the other is on the run in the Boston suburb of Watertown. For the moment, let's turn to another major story here in Washington. A bipartisan bill revamping the nation's immigration laws goes to the Senate judiciary committee today.

It was formally rolled out yesterday by the group of senators known as the Gang of Eight and critics have weighed in. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: As the Gang of Eight's four Republicans and four Democrats trooped into a crowded news conference, a political rainbow of high-profile supporters you would normally not find standing side by side applauded them - everyone from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka to Southern Baptist leader Richard Land to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. The first to speak was the Gang's prime mover and shaker, New York Democrat Charles Schumer.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: We are here to announce that eight senators from opposite sides of the political aisle are coming together on a commonsense immigration reform proposal that we believe can pass the Senate.

WELNA: Schumer had just suffered a stinging defeat in the Senate on gun legislation he championed, but he insisted this legislation, despite its controversial path to citizenship for 11 million illicit immigrants, has far better prospects and it's the Gang of Eight's to lose.

SCHUMER: Yes, our bill does secure the border first, but it treats the situation of those living in the shadows as an equally urgent priority. This is by design. We believe that Americans will support sensible solutions to dealing with the undocumented and future legal immigrants, but only if they are convinced there will not be future waves of illegal immigrants.

WELNA: And Arizona's John McCain, the group's GOP leader, argued the bill deals pragmatically with a perplexing situation.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Yes, we offer a path to citizenship to people who didn't come here legally. They're here and realistically there is nothing we can do that will induce them all to return to their countries of origin.

WELNA: But McCain also made a political case for conservatives to support what his colleagues are calling the Schumer/McCain Immigration Bill.

MCCAIN: A little straight talk. Republicans have got to compete. And I say compete for the Hispanic voter.

WELNA: The Gang of Eight member seen as most critical for winning over conservatives is Florida Republican Marco Rubio. Yesterday, Rubio spoke at length on "The Rush Limbaugh Show." The conservative radio host pressed the Tea Party-backed senator on why the immigration system needs fixing right now.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: If I controlled the flow of business in the Senate, we would be focused on tax reform and how to get our economy growing again and how to get the debt under control. But the reality is the Democrats were going to raise this issue of immigration. So if they're going to raise an issue and force us to address it, then we have to have an alternative, an alternative...

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Why? Why can't we just defeat it? Why do we have to address it because they raised it?

RUBIO: Because there are legitimate - if they raise the issue of immigration, we can't just vote against it.

WELNA: Rubio then asserted that because 11 million people won't be deported, their current status quo amounts to amnesty. But some of Rubio's fellow conservatives say he's got it backwards. At a rival news conference yesterday, Louisiana Republican David Vitter pointed out that the immigration bill would make legal status available to most unlawful immigrants six months after being signed into law.

SENATOR DAVID VITTER: We're very concerned that this bill is the same fundamentally flawed model from the past. It's an immediate amnesty with promises of enforcement.

WELNA: Opponents of the bill are girding for a tough fight. Ira Mehlman is with the Federation For American Immigration Reform.

IRA MEHLMAN: We're expecting this to be a difficult battle. You know, in the Senate, you need 41 votes to stop a bill and there is significant public opposition, I think, when the public gets wind of what is in this bill.

WELNA: That battle will likely be over changing the bill, either to improve it, or if you're an opponent, to kill it. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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