WASHINGTON — An immigration bill being developed in the Senate is completely consistent with President Barack Obama's approach — even though the Senate plan would tie border security to a path to citizenship in a manner Obama administration officials have criticized, Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday.
Pfeiffer didn't answer directly when asked on "Fox News Sunday" whether Obama would sign legislation making a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living here illegally contingent on first securing the border, as negotiators in the Senate are doing. But he suggested Obama was supportive of the Senate plan.
"What they are looking at and what has been talked about in the Gang of Eight proposal is 100 percent consistent with what the president is doing so we feel very good about it," Pfeiffer said. "And they are looking at it in the right way."
Obama has stressed that a path to citizenship should not have major hurdles in front of it, and some immigration advocates believe that's what a requirement for a secure border would amount to. Obama's Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, has rejected the argument that border security must be achieved before a comprehensive immigration package or any pathway to legalized status can be done.
But Republicans involved in the Senate negotiations have made clear that border security is a must for them before those living here illegally can be allowed to move toward citizenship.
"We are going to secure that border and it will be tied to a pathway to citizenship or there will be no deal," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the so-called Gang of Eight negotiating an immigration deal, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Graham also said that disagreement over a new low-skilled worker program is still hanging up an immigration deal — even after an agreement a week ago between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Graham said negotiators are revisiting the low-skilled worker deal. He didn't offer details, but his comments suggested senators might be encountering last-minute difficulties finalizing their bill, which they had hoped to roll out as early as this week.
"We've got an agreement between labor and business about the guest worker program, but we're revisiting that," Graham said.
"If we're reasonable with the 11 million, if we'll give them a path to citizenship that's earned and hard and fair — get in the back of the line, pay taxes, learn the English language — then the Democratic Party has to give us a guest-worker program to help our economy," Graham said. "That's what we're arguing over."
The hard-won deal between the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce would ultimately allow up to 200,000 workers a year into the U.S. to fill jobs in construction, hospitality, nursing homes and other areas where employers now say they have a difficult time hiring Americans or bringing in foreign workers legally. Even after the deal was struck, some industries, such as construction, continued to voice complaints about the terms, but other lawmakers and officials with the groups involved have continued to voice support and insisted it will hold.
Graham sounded optimistic overall saying senators hope to complete their deal in the next couple weeks. He predicted it will pass the 100-member Senate with 70 votes in favor.
Meanwhile two House lawmakers involved in writing a bipartisan bill in the House sounded notes of optimism that they, too, would have a deal soon that could be reconciled with the Senate agreement.
"I am very, very optimistic that the House of Representatives is going to have a plan that is going to be able to go to a conference with the Senate in which we're going to be able to resolve this," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union".