By Jessica Yellin and Gregory Wallace, CNN
(CNN) — Word that the Obama administration has circulated to federal agencies drafts of an immigration plan led the White House on Saturday to reaffirm its commitment to successful bipartisan negotiations to reach a plan on Capitol Hill.
“The president has made clear the principles upon which he believes any common-sense immigration reform effort should be based,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens told CNN. “We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the president has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit.”
CNN has reported that the White House was drafting an immigration bill in case an effort among a group of senators — the Gang of Eight — does not produce legislation in the near future. A similar effort is under way in the House.
USA Today obtained a draft proposal which an administration official told the newspaper was being sent to various federal agencies. An administration official told CNN the specifics of the plan are accurate as of the last draft this official saw.
The draft included an eight-year path to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, for illegal immigrants. A second administration official noted to CNN that the various drafts contain different proposals, but USA Today reported this particular draft included a criminal background check, back taxes, English and U.S. history requirement and a proposed new “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa. The draft also included increases to the border security and legal process and expansion of the E-Verify system to check employability of potential hires.
Obama met with the four Democrats involved in the Gang of Eight talks on Wednesday — the day after his State of the Union address — and the White House said Obama “reiterated the key principles he believes must be a part of any bipartisan, commonsense effort, including continuing to strengthen border security, creating an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable and streamlining legal immigration.”
“The president thanked the senators for their work to date and told them that while he was pleased with the progress, he expects the process to continue to move forward and stands ready to introduce his own legislation if Congress fails to act,” that statement continued.
In his remarks the night before, Obama noted that “bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. So let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away and America will be better for it.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Gang of Eight who has been critical of Obama’s remarks, denounced the White House document in a late Saturday statement.
“It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress,” Rubio said in a statement. “President Obama’s leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution.”
After Obama’s major address on immigration in Las Vegas last month, Rubio knocked Obama’s remarks as “hurting this effort” on Capitol Hill.