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Leahy says Senate must act 'quickly' on immigration, offers Republicans 1 hearing

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said Tuesday that he would consider holding just one hearing on comprehensive immigration legislation -- which is still being drafted -- despite calls from some Republican senators for a lengthy review. 

Leahy clarified his hearing timetable in a letter to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a key member of the so-called "Gang of 8" senators drafting an immigration bill. Rubio had written to Leahy last month cautioning that "excessive haste in the pursuit of a lasting solution" is "dangerous" to the goals of immigration reform. He said a "rush to legislate" would be "fatal to the effort of earning the public's confidence." 

Leahy, D-Vt., said he wants an open process, but he reiterated that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, already has held a number of immigration reform hearings -- though none of them have considered this particular proposal. 

Leahy wrote that once that proposal is introduced, "I will consider scheduling a hearing ... to examine that proposal." 

He added: "I will, however, remain mindful of the urgent need for us to actually get to the work of debating and considering amendments without unnecessary delay because this is an issue to which our attention is long overdue." 

He said Congress must act "quickly and decisively" or else lose the opportunity to pass a bill. He reiterated that he wants a vote in the Senate by this summer. 

The comments appeared to challenge concerns voiced by both Rubio and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that the Senate might rush a bill to the floor.

Sessions said Tuesday he was "alarmed" by Leahy's response to Rubio.

"Chairman Leahy’s letters to both Senator Rubio and to Committee Republicans reveal a determination to rush a bill through before the public can get involved in the process," Sessions said.

Rubio, R-Fla., had said Sunday that the latest proposal should "only be a starting point" and other senators need to weigh in. 

"Eight senators from seven states have worked on this bill to serve as a starting point for discussion about fixing our broken immigration system," he said. "But arriving at a final product will require it to be properly submitted for the American people's consideration, through the other 92 senators from 43 states that weren't part of this initial drafting process. In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret." 

The package is said to include: 

  • A program to bring tens of thousands of low-skilled workers into the country as part of a guest worker system. 
  • A pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. The proposal would include a 10-year wait for a green card, and a total 13-year wait to apply for citizenship. 
  • Strengthened border security, likely tied to the pathway to citizenship. 
  • Requiring employers to use E-Verify to check immigration status of workers. 
  • Overhauling the legal immigration system, authorizing more visas for high-skilled workers. 

Sessions said the immigration reform process, at the committee level alone, should take months, not weeks. 

"It is one thing to make promises. It is quite another to write a bill that actually works," Sessions said in a written statement.