Gang of Eight aiming to unveil immigration reform bill Thursday

A bipartisan group of eight senators is aiming to release comprehensive immigration reform legislation on Thursday, according to Senate sources.

One member of the group said the bill is virtually complete and that the plan is to roll it out this week, but he warned it could slip into next week.

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading member of the group, confirmed the members are hoping to unveil the legislation before lawmakers leave town for the weekend.

“We’re shooting for that kind of progress,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another Gang of Eight member, is scheduled to brief senators about the immigration reform bill Wednesday at the GOP Steering Committee lunch. Other Republican members of the Gang of Eight will be present and could speak as well.

One of the last questions to be resolved was over how to handle immigrant agricultural workers. The farm industry and labor unions were split over the issues of worker wages and the number of visas to be made available each year.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has taken the lead on negotiating agricultural visas, said on Tuesday that a tentative deal on that issue had been reached.

“There’s a tentative agreement on a number of things, and we’re waiting to see if it can get wrapped up,” she told reporters outside the Senate chamber.

A bipartisan group of House negotiators, meanwhile, continues to make progress on its own comprehensive immigration bill, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the talks. The secretive group intends to meet this week, though it remains unclear when a final agreement might emerge.

“The House group is getting closer and will introduce their bill when it is ready,” the aide said, “but the process has been very independent from the Senate process both in terms of timing and substance.”

Long a contentious issue, comprehensive immigration reform has risen to become a top priority in the 113th Congress primarily as a result of November’s elections, which saw Hispanic voters come out in overwhelming support of President Obama and the Democrats for the second straight presidential election cycle.

In the aftermath of those elections, GOP leaders — who have long opposed comprehensive reform, particularly so-called “amnesty” provisions that would carve a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally — are now calling for a bipartisan deal.

Obama and other immigration reform advocates are eager to seize the rare political opening.

The Democrats are warning, however, that they won’t support a piecemeal approach that focuses only on popular reforms, such as an expansion of visas for high-skilled workers.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip, stressed Tuesday that any deal must be comprehensive, combining less controversial provisions with those, like the citizenship pathway, that would likely not pass on their own.

“I do not believe that if we parcel immigration reform, and pick out only the economic consequences, that a bill would pass,” Hoyer said during an economic speech at the liberal Center for American Progress. “It must be comprehensive in nature.”

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.

This story was posted at 2:05 p.m. and updated at 11:15 p.m.