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Senators hush-hush as they craft immigration bill

By Erica Werner

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 9 2013 7:36 p.m. MST

The senators have been working toward a self-imposed March deadline to release their legislation, although it now seems that might slip until they return from a two-week recess the second week of April. They would aim for a vote in the Judiciary Committee soon thereafter, then consideration by the full Senate and from there, the House. Success is far from assured and the process could fail at any point. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has so far given the group the time and space to complete their work though he's also signaled his patience is not infinite and he could bring up more liberal immigration legislation drafted by President Barack Obama if the Gang of Eight doesn't produce a bill.

The group came together when Graham phoned Schumer the weekend after the November election. Obama's resounding victory among Latino voters had just sealed his win and underscored to Republicans like McCain and Graham that the GOP needed to act on immigration. Schumer, McCain and Graham all are veterans of past failed attempts on the issue, most prominently in 2007 when legislation backed by then-President George W. Bush failed on the Senate floor.

Schumer later recounted that Graham said, "The band is back, let's do immigration" and told him McCain was on board. "And my heart went pitter patter," Schumer said in telling the anecdote at a breakfast hosted by Politico in January.

The senators worked to round up others. Flake said Schumer approached him during Congress' lame-duck session.

"I said I just always wanted to be part of a gang. I grew up in Snowflake, Ariz., the South side didn't offer much," Flake said.

Rubio had been shopping his own immigration proposals that dovetailed with what the senators were working on.

The Gang of Eight began working on drafting principles. They were forced to speed up their timetable when they learned Obama planned to announce his own proposals and they rolled out their blueprint at a packed news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 28. Since then they've had little to say publicly as they work toward releasing their bill, except to voice cautious optimism that this time they will finally succeed in solving a problem that has bedeviled Washington for decades.

"Everyone has strong beliefs, but everyone wants to come to an agreement," Schumer said.

Said Flake, "Everybody's looking to get it done and that makes all the difference."

Follow Erica Werner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ericawerner

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