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Comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate

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Congress has adjourned until after the November elections. But before they left town, Senate Democrats quietly introduced a comprehensive immigration bill. The leading House Democrat on the issue insists that it’s not a political move to attract Latino voters.

Activists have waited for an immigration reform bill since President Obama took office.

On the day many members of Congress boarded flights back to their districts, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey finally introduced the comprehensive immigration bill. It would beef up the Border Patrol, expand family reunification to include same-sex partners and provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented people already in this country.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform calls the bill “last-minute political theater designed to impress special interest voters.” Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the Democrat who will likely introduce the House immigration bill, says the timing of the bill is unimportant. "Should we do it five weeks after the election? Is the election a clock that determines whether or not a piece of legislation is valid? I don’t think so."

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced his own immigration bill before he left town. One provision of the measure would reduce Medicaid funding to states that cover children or pregnant women who are not U.S. citizens.

The House Judiciary Committee held an immigration hearing Thursday with a pair of high-profile witnesses. Media giant and immigrant Rupert Murdoch and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg testified. They’re with a business group in favor of reform legislation to tighten the borders but provide those in the U.S. illegally a path to legal status.

Republican Congressman Dan Lungren of Folsom questioned Bloomberg about how the country views immigration. "Is there a valid position taken by a majority of Americans that there is a distinction between legal and illegal immigration, without then deciding what we should do?"

Mayor Bloomberg agreed that there is a difference. "People understand the difference and they want Congress to solve both problems," he said. "More legal immigrants, stop the illegal immigrants from coming here and do something about those who are already here."

Lungren helped deliver Republican votes for the major immigration bill that passed in 1986. He says some provisions of that bill weren’t enforced – and that’s why 12 million illegal immigrants have crossed the border in the past two decades.