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Sen. Marco Rubio: Reports of immigration deal 'premature'

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 31 2013 3:26 p.m. MDT

In this March 14, 2013, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — Even with one of the largest hurdles to an immigration overhaul overcome, optimistic lawmakers on Sunday cautioned they had not finished work on a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

The AFL-CIO and the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce reached a deal late Friday that would allow tens of thousands of low-skill workers into the country to fill jobs in construction, restaurants and hotels. Yet despite the unusual agreement between the two powerful lobbying groups, lawmakers from both parties conceded that the negotiations were not finished.

"With the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who brokered the labor-business deal.

But it hasn't taken the form of a bill and the eight senators searching for a compromise haven't met about the potential breakthrough.

"We haven't signed off," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

"There are a few details yet. But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves that has to be drafted," he added.

Yet just before lawmakers began appearing on Sunday shows, Sen. Marco Rubio warned he was not ready to lend his name — and political clout — to such a deal without hashing out the details.

"Reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature," said Rubio, a Florida Republican who is among the lawmakers working on legislation.

Rubio, a Cuban-American who is weighing a presidential bid in 2016, is a leading figure inside his party. Lawmakers will be closely watching any deal for his approval and his skepticism about the process did little to encourage optimism.

Rubio, who is the group's emissary to conservatives, called the agreement "a starting point" but said 92 senators from 43 states haven't yet been involved in the process.

The detente between the nation's leading labor federation and the powerful business lobbying group still needs senators' approval, including a nod from Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican whose previous efforts came up short.

"I think we're on track. . But as Sen. Rubio correctly says, we have said we will not come to final agreement till we look at all of the legislative language and he's correctly pointing out that that language hasn't been fully drafted," Schumer said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also noted the significance of the truce between labor and business but added that this wasn't yet complete.

"That doesn't mean we've crossed every 'i' or dotted every 't,' or vice versa," said Flake, who is among the eight lawmakers working on the deal.

Schumer negotiated the deal between AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue during a late-Friday phone call. Under the compromise, the government would create a new "W'' visa for low-skill workers who would earn wages paid to Americans or the prevailing wages for the industry they're working in, whichever is higher. The Labor Department would determine prevailing wage based on customary rates in specific localities, so that it would vary from city to city.

The proposed measure would secure the border, crack down on employers, improve legal immigration and create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already here.

It's a major second-term priority of President Barack Obama's and would usher in the most dramatic changes to the faltering U.S. immigration system in more than two decades.

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