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Obama administration makes progress on immigration bill

Measure being prepared in case Congress stalls

WASHINGTON — The White House is advancing work on early drafts of a comprehensive bill that would offer 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship along the lines of the principles that the president laid out in Las Vegas several weeks ago, administration officials said.

President Obama revealed last month that his administration had already drafted immigration legislation. But he said he preferred to let a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers work out their own bill that could also tighten border security and provide employers with a way to verify the citizenship status of workers.

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White House aides said Obama remained pleased with the progress being made on Capitol Hill toward a complete overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. But they said he would be prepared to submit legislation if the effort among lawmakers stalls.

‘‘The president has made clear the principles upon which he believes any common-sense immigration reform effort should be based,’’ said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. ‘‘We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the president has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit.’’

On Saturday, USA Today reported that it had obtained portions of the president’s draft legislation. The newspaper said the bill would allow illegal immigrants to become permanent residents within eight years and in the meantime could ­apply for a ‘‘Lawful Prospective Immigrant’’ visa.

Stevens and other White House officials declined to comment on specific details of the report.

Those details are similar to the statement of principles that the White House provided to reporters after Obama’s Las Vegas speech. A fact sheet said the president wanted to strengthen border security, provide ‘‘earned citizenship,’’ streamline legal immigration, and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Obama’s administration has been working on immigration legislation for years. But the ­issue shot to the top of the president’s second-term agenda ­after his reelection in November, when Hispanic voters backed him in large numbers. White House officials are betting that Republicans will be eager to embrace immigration changes as a way of repairing their image with an important voting bloc.

But getting legislation passed remains tricky, especially in the Republican-controlled House, and Obama has made it clear he will take a back seat to lawmakers if doing so will help. Negotiations are taking place among a bipartisan group of senators, a separate group in the House, and among labor leaders and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Representative Paul D. ­Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, praised Obama’s tone on the ­issue last week, saying the president ‘‘actually doesn’t want to politicize this, which is conducive to getting something done.’’

On Wednesday, Obama met with Democratic senators at the White House to get a status report on the pace of progress on the legislation. In a statement after the meeting, White House officials said the president reiterated his pledge to become more involved if necessary.

It remains unclear, however, how long the president is willing to wait. In interviews with Spanish-language television stations after his speech last month, Obama suggested that he wanted to see real progress by March, when lawmakers had said they hoped to have reached an agreement.

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