WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A White House backup U.S. immigration plan can stay a backup plan if Congress develops meaningful immigration reform, the White House chief of staff said.
The preliminary alternative bill draft, leaked to USA Today Saturday, calls for immigrants to wait eight years before becoming permanent residents.
"Leaks don't happen in Washington by accident," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of four Republican senators working with four Democrats on immigration legislation they hope will gain wide Senate acceptance.
"So this raises the question," McCain said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Does the president really want a result or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans so he can gain advantage in the next election?"
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- who Wednesday praised President Barack Obama's non-confrontational tone on an immigration overhaul in Tuesday's State of the Union address -- said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" making the draft bill public "tells us that [Obama is] looking for a partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution."
A White House official told The Wall Street Journal the leak wasn't intentional and said officials reached out to Democratic and Republican Senate offices Saturday night to make that clear.
The White House earlier circulated the draft to federal agencies for comment, which means numerous government officials had seen it, the Journal said.
Still, the draft drew a scathing response from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another member of the bipartisan group, who has been working to sell plan to conservatives.
Rubio said the White House legislation was "half-baked and seriously flawed" and "would actually make our immigration problems worse."
"If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress," Rubio said in a statement late Saturday.
"It's a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress," he said.
White House aides have been consulting with Republicans and Democrats in the group, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, said on "This Week."
The draft legislation is meant to be a backup only if Congress stalls immigration-reform legislation and doesn't need to go anywhere if Congress moves forward with meaningful reform, McDonough said in his first appearance as the president's top White House official.
"He says it's dead on arrival if it's proposed," McDonough said, quoting Rubio. "Well, let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed. Let's make sure that that group up there, the gang of eight, makes good progress on these efforts, as much as they say they want to, and that's exactly what we intend to do, to work with them."
The USA Today report said the White House draft legislation would let undocumented immigrants apply for a "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa after passing a criminal-background check, submitting biometric information and paying fees.
People wouldn't be eligible if they were convicted of crimes that led to a prison term of at least a year; or three different crimes that resulted in a total of 90 days in jail; or had committed an offense abroad that would render them removable from the United States if they had committed it in the United States.
Once receiving the provisional status, these people could, after eight years, qualify for a green card -- the informal name for an ID card attesting to their legal permanent resident status -- if they learn English and U.S. history and pay back taxes.
This would then let them apply for citizenship after a further five years -- a process similar to one that failed to pass Congress in 2007 and similar to details in a fact sheet the White House provided Jan. 29 right after Obama delivered an immigration speech in Las Vegas.
The sheet, which can be found at tinyurl.com/pressfactsheet, said Obama wanted to strengthen border security, provide "earned citizenship," streamline legal immigration and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
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