Obama, Labor and Business Leaders to Meet on Immigration Reform

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04:  U.S. President Barack Obama walks toward Marine One while departing the White House, February 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama is traveling to Minnesota to rally support for his new gun control proposals.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: U.S. President Barack Obama walks toward Marine One while departing the White House, February 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama is traveling to Minnesota to rally support for his new gun control proposals. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

President Barack Obama is moving forward in his attempt to tackle immigration reform just days after he announced his plans on the issue.

Obama on Tuesday is meeting with labor and business leaders at the White House to "discuss his commitment to getting a bipartisan bill passed in 2013, and how immigration reform fits within his broader agenda for economic growth and competitiveness," read a White House statement.

The meeting comes as a group of about six House members, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, is nearing completion of wide-ranging immigration legislation. The legislation, similar to proposals by the Senate and Obama, include a pathway to legalization for undocumented residents in the country. The House intends to unveil the legislation at around the time of Obama's State of the Union address Feb. 12, according to lawmakers and aides involved.

The proposal is likely to face strong resistance from many of the conservative Republicans who dominate the House.

But group members and others say that, despite the discomfort of many House Republicans with any effort to adjust the status of undocumented immigrants', they see glimmers of hope for passage of some kind of immigration package during this session of Congress.

"I've felt a huge sea change, believe it or not, from both parties," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the group. 

"There are some who will criticize anything no matter what it is as amnesty. There are even some who will label anything as amnesty without even reading a bill or seeing a bill. It's their right to do so. But I think the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats want to get something done, want to fix it."

The group has been meeting in secret off and on for years in various permutations, beginning around the time of the last serious effort on immigration in Congress in 2007, which failed in the Senate. They've drafted legislative language in the past but without ever introducing a bill.

They've largely kept their efforts quiet in part to shield members from the likely political blow back from conservatives were their efforts to become public, an aide said.

Indeed, the loudest voices from House Republicans decry any efforts aimed at the legal status issue.

"We've been down this road before with politicians promising to enforce the law in return for amnesty. ... The American people should not be fooled," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said this week after Obama and a bipartisan Senate group released proposals promising stronger border controls, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, smoother legal immigration and tougher enforcement against employers hiring illegal immigrants.

For many House Republicans, supporting immigration legislation that gives a pathway to citizenship carries substantial political risks, since it's a position that would have to be defended to conservative voters come election time. 

But polls show Americans increasingly supportive of the approach at the same time many GOP leaders believe that the party should confront the immigration issue or risk continued losses in national elections. Obama won an overwhelming majority of Latino and Asian voters in November, which helped seal his victory.

Democratic group members are Reps. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Zoe Lofgren and Xavier Becerra of California. The Republicans are Diaz-Balart and Sam Johnson and John Carter of Texas.

"I am optimistic that there are new voices in the Republican Party that want to get this done in the House of Representatives," Gutierrez said.

The House Judiciary Committee is to begin hearings next week, and Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said much work lies ahead before it will become clear what kind of immigration law changes the House might be able to support.

"I feel confident the House will pass immigration reform legislation, but whether it's individual pieces or something that fits together in a more comprehensive whole" remains to be seen, Goodlatte said Wednesday.

 Last week, a bipartisan group of eight leading senators — including Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez —reached a tentative deal on a systematic overhaul of the country’s immigration system.

The agreement covers border security, guest workers, employer verification and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in this country.

Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on a major reform bill pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn't get enough GOP support.

Now, with some Republicans chastened by the November elections which demonstrated the importance of Latino voters and their increasing commitment to Democrats, some in the GOP say this time will be different.

The group claims a notable newcomer in Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate whose conservative chops may help smooth the way for support among conservatives wary of anything that smacks of amnesty. In an opinion piece published Sunday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rubio wrote that the existing system amounts to "de facto amnesty," and he called for "commonsense reform."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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