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Immigration reform: A step forward in Senate, a leap back in House? (+video)

While Senate negotiators were able to sign off on a proposal for immigration reform, a bipartisan group in the House appears stuck on the issue of health care for newly legalized immigrants.

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“We’re hoping that we can do something as quickly as possible,” said Xavier Becerra (D) of California, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House and a member of the bipartisan negotiations, on Tuesday. “We’ve been saying that for a little while, but I think that shows how close we think we are.”

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The House working group has been a key hope for a bipartisan resolution to the immigration issue in the House of Representatives, a chamber where previous reform efforts have gone to die over Republican opposition.

This time around, the Republicans aren’t banking on a small group of negotiators being able to deliver a solution – and they certainly haven’t put all their hopes behind the small bipartisan group.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia has been steering a simultaneous process of proposing pieces of immigration legislation – discreet bills on border security, on agricultural and high-skilled workers, and on enforcing immigration laws inside the US – to keep the immigration reform effort alive even if the bipartisan House group founders.

“We don’t like to see that,” says Goodlatte of dissension within the House’s bipartisan group, “but we have so many backup plans that we’re not going to be dependent [on the group.] They know we’re going to move whether they produce something or not and we know that if they produce something, we will benefit from that.”

Even if the group doesn’t come to an accord, Goodlatte says, he’s made it clear to the negotiators he’s interested in hearing the points where they did find agreement in order to inform the overall House immigration push.

The fact that whatever happens in the House will certainly be to the right of the Senate’s proposal was evident on Wednesday, when Goodlatte’s committee held a hearing comparing provisions of the current Senate bill to the widely-derided immigration reform signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

Goodlatte said he had “serious concerns” that the Senate legislation is mirroring some of the errors of the 1986 bill, including putting too few requirements on the executive branch to carry out the enforcement mechanisms and creating border enforcement that isn’t rigorous enough.

But even amid discord and criticism, there remains a strong push among in the House to come to accord on immigration reform.

The House Democratic aide said the party leaders are keenly aware that only a bipartisan deal can get the support necessary to pass the House and they are loath to arrest its progress.

Republicans, too, are keyed in on compromise.

A final immigration deal is “not going to be the House bill, it’s not going to be the Senate bill, it’s going to be something in between, and that’s how compromise works,” Labrador says.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R) of South Carolina pointed out that Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont pulled his amendment that would have recognized same-sex couples for immigration purposes from the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, bowing to the fact that it would have poisoned the immigration issue for many conservative Republicans.

“If that same attitude prevails in the House, then there’s reason to be optimistic,” Mulvaney said.

Is there reason to be optimistic now?

“I’ll tell you Friday,” Labrador says.

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