Members of a bipartisan group of eight Senators took their quest for a deal on immigration reform to the Arizona-Mexico border on Wednesday where they said they were on track to deliver a bill when Congress resumes next month.
Senators Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans and Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, toured a stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border where many foreigners have entered the United States illegally.
The Senators are trying to create metrics for defining whether the border is secure as part of a comprehensive immigration bill that would give millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Speaking at a news conference after meeting with border patrol agents and flying over the international border around the frontier city of Nogales, in southern Arizona, Schumer said he was hopeful they would present a bill to the Senate when Congress resumes April 8.
"The bottom line is we are very close. I'd say we are 90 percent there. We have a few little problems to work on ... but we're very hopeful that we will meet our deadline," said Schumer, flanked by his Senate colleagues.
"We believe we will meet our deadline, we are on track to meet our deadline of having a bill when we get back to Congress in a couple of weeks," he added.
The Senators are members of the so-called Gang of Eight - four Democrats and four Republicans - who are working on a plan for the biggest overhaul of immigration laws since 1986.
Although they have agreed on creating a way for the 11 million undocumented foreigners to earn citizenship, problems with the future flow of immigrants has remained a sticking point.
A new temporary worker program is critical for Republicans, who will not agree to overhaul the immigration system unless there is a process for foreigners to temporarily fill U.S. jobs if needed.
The issue of wages for the new workers briefly stalled talks on Friday with unions and businesses publicly hurling insults at each other.
At the time, the AFL-CIO, the biggest labor federation, said Republicans and businesses wanted to undercut wages. The Chamber of Commerce, the biggest U.S. business lobby, said the unions had jeopardized the entire immigration reform effort.
Tempers cooled earlier this week with both sides cautiously voicing some optimism.
Sources said organized labor and the business community were trying to resolve their differences over a new program that would determine the future of immigration for low-skilled foreign workers such as janitors and cooks.
Schumer declined to provide details on what the group still had to resolve.
"Being here will help convince our colleagues why that bill is the right way to go," he told reporters.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Andrew Hay)