Schumer: Senate group ‘90 percent’ finished on immigration reform bill

Senators working on drafting an immigration reform bill are "90 percent" finished, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the bipartisan group, said Wednesday.

"The bottom line is we're very close," Schumer said, striking an optimistic note. "I'd say we're 90 percent there. We have a few little problems to work on, we've been on the phone with our four colleagues all day."

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Schumer made the comments after he and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) toured the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz., on Wednesday. The four are all members of the "Gang of Eight" senators who have been drafting a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

The group unveiled its framework in January and has been negotiating the details, with hopes to introduce a bill by the end of April.

Schumer and McCain used the post-tour press conference to stress the importance of border security.

"I don't know if this changed my views because Sen. McCain and Sen. Flake made clear what we needed on the border, but I'll be able to explain this to my colleagues," Schumer said. "Many of my colleagues say, 'Why do we need to do anything on the border?' We should."

Heightened border security, a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, as well as measures to boost high-skilled immigration and create a guest worker program will be elements of the final package.

With strong Republican opposition to measures that would grant legalized status to illegal immigrants, efforts to boost border security could be a key element in winning support from conservative lawmakers.

McCain said that the $85 billion in across-the-board sequester spending cuts had weakened border security.

"There's no doubt that our border is less secure because of the sequester. And we'll be doing whatever we can to restore the funding," he said.

President Obama and congressional lawmakers have displayed an eagerness to pass a big immigration bill. The White House, which took a hit in polls after the recent fights over the budget, hopes to boost Obama's political standing by moving the focus toward immigration reform.

Obama has said the issue is a second-term priority and told lawmakers that “the time has come” to move legislation during a naturalization ceremony at the White House on Monday.

A bipartisan House group is also working on a proposal, but while those details have not been released, their efforts have received the general backing of leaders from both parties.

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