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Secret House Group Finalizing Designs for Immigration Reform

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As a group of senators unveil their bipartisan proposal for immigration reform Monday and President Obama heads west this week to rally support for his own ideas, a separate bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives is on the verge of finalizing its own designs for comprehensive immigration reform.

The discussions, which top aides close to the talks discussed on the condition that they were not identified, are described as “Washington’s best-kept secret.”

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner spilled the beans on the secret group, revealing that the lawmakers had been “meeting for three or four years now” and that they are almost ready to publicly present their proposals.

“They basically have an agreement. I’ve not seen the agreement. I don’t know all the pitfalls, but it’s, in my view, the right group of members,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Ripon Society last week during remarks that were closed to the press, as first reported by The Hill. “My theory was that if these folks could work this out, it’d be a big step in the right direction.”

The House’s not-yet-finalized proposal is expected to address five general areas of immigration reform, according to aides close to the negotiations: secure the border, implement a permanent e-verify system nationwide, reform the visa system, address the predicament of how to handle immigrants already in the country illegally in a “fair” and “legal manner” while determining how to handle those who have applied for legal immigration and are currently waiting in line, and reform the immigration system for future applicants.

The discussions have taken on an increased level of urgency now that the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate has released its proposal and President Obama has been sworn in for a second term in office.

Last week, the president also met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House, identifying immigration reform as his top legislative priority.

While the details are still being worked out, sources explained one proposal under consideration would require anyone who entered the country illegally to plead guilty before a federal court, pay a penalty and serve a probation-type sentence.

The amount of the fine is among the final sticking points as discussions near completion, aides say. Lawmakers are also attempting to settle how quickly to implement the e-verify system. While some lawmakers prefer to enforce the check within one year, others want to delay implementation for two years.

Democrat participants joined the group with the blessing of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and regularly update her on the informal talks, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide.

The effort has been ongoing for years, but half of the members of the original working group left the House of Representatives after the last election, according to multiple aides close to the talks.

One of the House’s most ardent advocates for strengthening border security, Rep. Steve King, said he has not been asked for any input and doubted its chances to produce an effective plan.

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