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Republican donors back reform on immigrants

As Congress readies for a drawn-out immigration debate, an expanding network of Republican fund-raisers is pressing for a path to legal status for millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Business leaders and donors who raised tens of millions in the last election are meeting with top GOP fund-raisers and Republican lawmakers who may be reluctant to support what critics call ‘‘amnesty’’ for immigrants who broke the law.

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A coalition of fund-raisers who favor overhauling immigration is also funneling donations to outside groups to protect like-minded congressional Republicans who fear a backlash by the GOP’s core supporters.

A bipartisan group of senators had planned Tuesday to unveil a sweeping immigration bill that would secure the border, remake legal immigration, boost workplace enforcement, and put 11 million people here illegally on a path to citizenship.

But Senator John McCain of Arizona said the rollout could happen Wednesday because of the Boston Marathon attack.

The rollout will be the culmination of months of closed-door meetings among a group of senators known as the ‘‘Gang of Eight’’ — four Democrats and four Republicans, including McCain and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

In most cases, the donors supporting the immigration bill have ties to Wall Street and businesses that want more high- and low-skilled immigrants in the nation’s legal labor pool.

Backed by the US Chamber of Commerce, these business-minded Republican fund-raisers say they’re getting a relatively receptive audience in the face of an undeniable new political reality.

Record Hispanic turnout helped President Obama defeat Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney last fall.

And projected population growth ensures that immigrants’ political clout will grow stronger.

The network of Republican donors is at odds with many on the GOP’s right flank — Tea Party activists among them — who argue for increased border security first and foremost.

That was largely the position of Romney, who encouraged immigrants without legal status to ‘‘self-deport.’’

‘‘Immigrants are an important part of this economy and they’re an important part of my business,’’ said Frank Vandersloot, an Idaho businessman who steered more than $1 million to a group backing Romney last year and gave tens of thousands more to others.

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