Getting the ball rolling on immigration reform

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING ON IMMIGRATION REFORM…. Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) explained that the Senate would act on a climate/energy bill before it tackles immigration reform. Reid added, however, that he remains committed to passing immigration reform this year.

With that in mind, it should be an interesting afternoon. In a few hours, Reid and other leading Dems will unveil the outline of a new comprehensive immigration reform package. The plan was reportedly drafted by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and presented to reform groups in private meetings on the Hill yesterday. (It’s likely Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s input played a role in shaping the proposal, though he now wants nothing to do with the effort.)

“This is a draft that reflects months of bipartisan work. It is intended to serve as an invitation to Republicans to look at it and sit down to solve problems with us,” said one of the sources.

In attempt to try to woo GOP Senators, the 26-page draft, obtained by CNN, calls for “concrete benchmarks” to secure the border before allowing illegal immigrants the opportunity for legal status.

Those benchmarks include: increasing the number border patrol officers, increased U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), increased personnel to inspect for drugs and contraband, and improved technology to assist ICE agents.

The draft proposal also includes a process to legalize an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Whether this has any chance of passing either chamber is still a matter of speculation, though the odds are probably against it. There’s very limited time before this Congress wraps up — inevitable Republican obstructionism slows the process down — and the initiative is just now getting started in one chamber.

Today’s unveiling of a reform blueprint will, however, raise the visibility of the issue considerably.

As for the specter of bipartisanship, the issue puts Republicans in a tough spot — they’re generally reluctant, at the national level, to thumb their nose at Latino voters — but GOP leaders have said they’re unwilling to go along with a push this year. Nevertheless, Schumer has reportedly reached out to Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), George LeMieux (Fla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.), and Dick Lugar (Ind.), in the hopes of assembling a bipartisan group. Schumer should probably keep expectations low.

Today’s press conference is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. (ET).