UPDATE 1-White House drafts backup immigration plan, Republicans balk

Reuters Middle East

(Recasts, adds details from talk shows, White House response)

WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - The White House is drafting a

backup immigration reform plan in case a bipartisan

congressional committee working on a bill fails, an Obama

Administration official said on Sunday, though a key Republican

said the president's plan would be "dead on arrival" on Capitol

Hill.

White House Chief of staff Denis McDonough said the

administration hoped that bipartisan efforts would deliver a

broadly acceptable package, but wanted a plan B.

"We're doing exactly what the president said we would do

last month ... which is we're preparing. We're going to be

ready," he said on ABC's "This Week' program, confirming a

published report on Saturday disclosing the White House effort.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle are anxious to tackle

immigration reform, after the increasingly influential Latino

vote turned out heavily in favor of President Barack Obama and

his Democrats in the November 2012 election.

USA Today said on Saturday that a draft of a White House

immigration proposal would allow illegal immigrants to become

legal permanent residents within eight years.

The plan, obtained by the newspaper, also would provide for

more security funding and require businesses to check the

immigration status of new hires within four years.

McDonough gave no details of White House's plan, but said it

was important that immigration reform passed this year and made

clear the administration hoped bipartisan efforts on Capitol

Hill bore fruit.

"So let's make sure they get this thing done, and they're up

there working on it right now. We have to make progress on

immigration reform, we should enact it this year and the

president will continue to work with the team to make sure that

happens."

Obama emphasized in last week's State of the Union address

the importance of creating a path to citizenship for the

estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the United States

illegally. Many Republicans stress that the nation's borders

must be secured first.

Latinos favored Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in the

Nov. 6 election by 71 percent to 27 percent, helping tilt

politically divided states to the Democratic incumbent.

Republicans want to show Latinos they understand their

concerns on immigration, but must also be mindful of

conservative members of their own party who worry about

encouraging even more illegal immigration in the future.

Senator Marco Rubio, the key Republican on the issue and one

of the eight senators on the committee crafting the legislation,

dismissed the White House draft as a seriously flawed rehash of

failed immigration policies that would make the country's

immigration problems worse.

"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," Rubio, who

is a Cuban-American from Florida, said in a statement on

Saturday.

SECURE BORDERS FIRST

According to USA Today, illegal immigrants could also apply

for a newly created "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa, under

the White House's draft bill. If approved, they could apply for

the same provisional legal status for spouses or children living

outside the country, according to the draft.

Conservative Republicans like Senator Rand Paul want borders

to be first secured before they can endorse any immigration

reform.

"I will support it on one condition: That we have a report

that says the borders are being secured ... (it has to be) a

report and comes back and is voted on in Congress," Paul said on

"Fox News Sunday."

"I won't do it on a promise from President Obama, that he

will secure the borders," Paul, from Kentucky, added.

Paul Ryan, the Republican vice president candidate in last

year's elections, suggested the White House plan was leaked

intentionally.

"By putting these details out ... that tells us he is

looking for partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution.

This particular move is counter productive," Ryan said on ABC's

"This Week" program.

A White House official denied it was leaked.

"This was not the administration floating anything. ... We

were surprised to learn what appeared to be draft language had

been given to the press, thought it was unfortunate, and reached

out to senate offices on both sides of the aisle on Saturday

evening to make that clear."

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull, Steve Holland and Paul

Simao; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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