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Immigration reform: White House drafts 'backup plan'

Though both Democrats and Republican have assured the Obama administration it won't be necessary, the White House has put together its own immigration plan, in case bipartisan talk of immigration overhaul breaks down.

By Philip ElliottAssociated Press / February 18, 2013

President Barack Obama speaks about immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Jan. 29. The White House is circulating a draft 'backup' immigration bill that would create a new visa for illegal immigrants living in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years, according to a report published online Saturday.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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Washington

The White House is downplaying its draft immigration proposal as merely a backup plan if lawmakers don't come up with an overhaul of their own. It won't be necessary, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are telling the Obama administration.

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White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that President Barack Obama wants to "be prepared" in case the small bipartisan group of senators fails to devise a plan for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. In response, lawmakers assured the White House they are working on their own plan — and warned that Obama would be heading toward failure if the White House gets ahead of them.

"We will be prepared with our own plan if these ongoing talks between Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill break down," McDonough said, adding he's optimistic they would not crumble.

But he was equally realistic about the fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill.

"Well, let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed," McDonough said of the president's pitch, first reported on USA Today's website late Saturday.

Even so, the administration is moving forward on its own immigration agenda should one of Obama's top priorities get derailed.

The administration's proposal would create a visa for those in the country illegally and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years. The proposal also requires businesses to know the immigration status of their workers and adds more funding for border security.

It drew immediate criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the eight lawmakers searching for a comprehensive plan.

"If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come," said Rubio, who has been a leading GOP spokesman on immigration.

Many of the details in the administration's draft proposal follow the broad principles that Obama previously outlined. But the fact the administration is writing its own alternative signaled Obama wants to address immigration sooner rather than later and perhaps was looking to nudge lawmakers to move more quickly.

The tactic could complicate the administration's work with Congress.

David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to Obama's re-election campaign, acknowledged Monday that it likely was a mistake for news of the Obama immigration plan to be made public.

Appearing on MSNBC, Axelrod said in an interview from Chicago that "the mistake here was to disseminate it so widely within the administration" and said he believes that White House officials would "take it back" if they could.

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