White House: Senate proposals on immigration reform ‘a big deal’

The White House on Monday welcomed immigration reform principles from a bipartisan group of senators as “a big deal.”

President Obama “welcomes the efforts” of the eight senators to strike a comprehensive immigration deal, particularly the group’s endorsement of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, White House press secretary Jay Carney said at his daily briefing.

“This is a big deal. This is an important development,” said Carney, who noted that the proposal includes “principles that mirror the president's blueprint” for a deal.

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Carney, however, ducked questions about whether the White House would accept the development of increased border security measures as a precondition to a pathway of citizenship, something absent from the president’s immigration plan.

“We're not at a stage, especially from the briefing room, that we're going to negotiate details of legislation that doesn't yet exist,” Carney said.

“The president believes it is very important that we move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. It's the right thing to do for our country, our economy,” he said.

“This is a multi-part process,” Carney added in response to questions about border security. “What I'm not going to do is engage in specific negotiations from the podium today.”

The plan from the eight senators comes a day before Obama is scheduled to address his own proposals on immigration reform at an event Tuesday in Las Vegas.

The Senate principles would allow undocumented immigrants to register with the government and begin a pathway toward permanent legal status. Those in the country illegally would need to pay a fine and get through an extended probationary period before being granted citizenship.

The proposal would also increase the number of immigration visas available for skilled workers, implement a national employer-verification program and create a guest-worker program designed to allow employers to hire agricultural workers or laborers if they can demonstrate they could not hire an American to fill the job.

Lawmakers signing off on the deal include Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), along with Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), a possible 2016 presidential candidate who could give the proposal cover from conservatives.

Carney said the president's speech Tuesday in Nevada would primarily focus on “engaging” the American people in the push for legislation.

“He will continue a conversation with the American people of how we need to move forward and why we need to move forward,” Carney said, adding that “the goal here ... is to achieve legislation that will get the job done.”