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The Gang of Eight

Bipartisan Group of Senators Makes Comprehensive Immigration Reform Deal

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In January 2013, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, worked together to broker a deal and create legislation for comprehensive immigration reform. They were called the “Gang of Eight.”

Much of their work was done quietly to avoid the media attention and the interference of lobbyists that had undermined previous compromise attempts.

Republicans became more willing to negotiate a deal after the party took a beating from Hispanics in the 2012 election in which President Obama won 71% of their votes.

The key provision in their proposal, and the most controversial one, was a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country.

Other measures included a guest-worker program that would allow immigrants to come into the country for a specific period of time and fill specific jobs and relief for DREAM Act immigrants, those who entered the United States as children.

Most important for Republicans, the senators’ plan called for heightened border security and tougher workplace enforcement that included use of the government’s E-Verify system to check employee’s immigration status.

President Obama praised the work of the Gang of Eight and urged Congress to pass the legislation. Here are the members of the Gang:

John McCain, R-Ariz., -- McCain has a long record of support for comprehensive, bipartisan reform. He worked with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to sponsor legislation to fix the system a decade before the Gang of Eight was born. McCain predicted that Arizona would go from a Republican state to Democratic if the GOP rejected the reform effort.

Dick Durbin, D-Ill., -- The senior senator from President Obama’s home state, Durbin has a long record of supporting reform efforts that included the path to citizenship and DREAM Act. Durbin, while supporting the pathway to citizenship, said it was important that immigrants learn English as part of the deal.

Marco Rubio, R-Fla., -- A Cuban-American from Miami, Rubio had worked before the 2012 election to come up with a Republican version of the DREAM Act. Rubio has become the GOP’s point man for reaching out to Hispanics and showing them a different side of the party.

Robert Menendez, D-N.J., -- Also a Cuban-American, Menendez recognized that a window of opportunity opened to get reform done after the 2012 election. He said, “First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Third, Democrats want it, and fourth, the Republicans need it.”

Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., -- Graham often teams up with McCain in political battles. The conservative legislator told McClatchy News he wasn’t worried about taking the heat from the Tea Party and right wing of the GOP for compromising: “I am confident – very confident – that if I help solve this problem in a way that we won’t have 20 million illegal immigrants 20 years from now, not only will I get re-elected, I can look back and say I was involved in something that was important.”

Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., -- The third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Schumer had supported previous attempts to reform the system since he his seat in 1998. He believed reform was essential to help unify the country. “Once it is clear that in 20 years our nation will not again confront the specter of another 11 million people coming here illegally,” Schumer said, “Americans will embrace more welcoming immigration policies.”

Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., -- The junior senator from a state where border security is a critical issue, Flake followed Sen. McCain into the negotiations. He criticized President Obama for not being serious enough about securing the borders. “The bipartisan Senate framework deems border security a priority by making eventual citizenship contingent on measurable increases in border security. The president’s proposal does not contain similar language," Flake said.

Michael Bennet, D-Colo. -- Joining the Gang of Eight was a step into the national spotlight for the first-term senator. “The status quo is holding back the economy, hurting families, and undermining our security,” Bennet said in praising the compromise.

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