On the other hand, Democrats have opposed Republican proposals to make legalization contingent on success in closing the border to illegal crossings. Under the legislation as drafted, legalization could begin as soon as a security plan was drafted, but a 10-year wait is required for a green card.
One plan to change that was sidetracked on a vote of 61-37.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said his proposal would require Congress to vote annually for five years on whether the border is secure. If lawmakers decide it is not, "then the processing of undocumented workers stops until" it is, he said. The decision would be made based on numerous factors, including progress toward completion of a double-layered fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and toward a goal of 95 percent capture of illegal entrants. A system to track the border comings and goings of foreigners is also required.
While the public debate was taking place, lawmakers involved in the private talks expressed optimism.
Across the Capitol, House Republican leaders sought to present a friendlier face to Hispanics — a group that gave Obama more than 70 percent support in last year's presidential election.
Boehner met with the Democratic-dominated Congressional Hispanic Caucus, while rank-and-file members of his party reviewed areas of agreement with Latino religious leaders.
"It's a conversation Republicans want to have," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said later at a news conference outside the Capitol.
Separately, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation creating a program allowing farm workers to come to the United States to take temporary jobs in the United States.
The measure is one of several that the panel is considering in the final weeks of June as part of a piece-by-piece approach to immigration rather than the all-in-one bill that Senate is considering.
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.
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