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As Senators sell sweeping immigration reform, will House break it up?

Senate bill 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 –– more commonly referred to as the Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill — has now been filed, and the first hearing on the bill will take place this Friday.  Now that the sweeping proposed  legislation is out, two of its eight architects, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, have been assuring different groups that the bill addresses their concerns.

“It accomplishes something the American people have been asking for — true bipartisan compromise,” said Senator Menendez.  The New Jersey Senator said the proposed legislation provides a tough, but fair pathway to citizenship, and it recognizes family unity by allowing the immediate reunification of green card holders with their spouses and minor children, as well as proposing that  people waiting for green cards in the family system can come to the U.S. to work and be with their families while they wait.

RELATED: Senate immigration bill revealed: a path to citizenship, shift to employment-based visas  

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been speaking out in favor of the bill, and arguing against criticisms that the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants amounts to amnesty. Senator Rubio has said the bill is a “strong conservative effort” to secure borders and improve the economy.

“To have an honest debate, we need to be clear about the facts — and unfortunately there’s already some misinformation being spread about what’s in the bill,” said Rubio spokesperson Alex Conant.  “Our legislation will implement the toughest border security and immigration law enforcement in U.S. history before a single illegal immigrant is able to apply for permanent residence in the U.S.,” said Conant. Rubio’s website has a page explaining the “six security trigger steps” which the bill requires before allowing undocumented immigrants to begin a gradual pathway to citizenship.

While the bill will be vigorously debated in the Senate, the tougher sell will be in the Republican-led House.  Today a bipartisan group in the House — including Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, California Democrat Xavier Becerra, and Idaho Republican Congressman Raul Labrador — acknowledged its “existence” for the first time.  The group issued their first public statement  and praised the Senate bill, pledging similar legislation.

“We are also working on a good faith, bipartisan effort in the House,” said the House bipartisan group statement. “We believe we will soon agree on a reasonable, common-sense plan to finally secure our borders and strengthen our economy with a tough but fair process that respects the rule of law so immigrants can contribute to our country,” the House group added.

But there are reports that House Speaker John Boehner is considering breaking the sweeping immigration bill into parts. In a conference call today, some pro-immigration reform advocates from the Alliance for Citizenship criticized the idea.  “If by breaking it apart you are creating a situation whose goal is to frustrate reform, then this is not going to work,” said Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  “That’s why you need to do it with all its component parts, rather than laying land mines for the future,”  he added.

A Congressional aide says there is confidence that Boehner does want to pass an immigration reform bill, but the reality is that some Republicans in the House have staked their careers on opposing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  It might be easier, explains the aide, for some Republicans to be able to vote on separate parts of one bill, even if it is done in a short amount of time.

“I think the realists in the House understand that immigration reform is forcefully moving to a conclusion,” says the aide. “There is a critical mass who want to get this resolved and see it as an economic issue, and others who would never like to have to talk about the issue again, but it will still require a certain amount of trust to make sure they have the votes to pass the legislation.”

In the meantime, immigrant rights groups have raised concerns about certain parts of the Senate bill. Marielene Hincapié, from the National Immigration Law Center, said today that the road to citizenship should not include too many “roadblocks,” including documentation or employment requirements which might be difficult for many undocumented families.

Nonetheless,  said Hincapié, “this is a historic moment — it’s the first serious attempt to turn Americans at heart into Americans on paper.”

RELATED: Despite concerns, Latinos say this is a breakthrough moment

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