Reports of US immigration deal called premature

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Reports that U.S. lawmakers have reached an immigration reform deal are premature, one senator warned as a bipartisan group tried to calm expectations of agreement on one of the country's most complicated issues.

A breakthrough came over the weekend as big business and labor reached agreement that would allow tens of thousands of low-skilled workers into the country to fill jobs in construction, restaurants and hotels.

But despite the unusual deal between the AFL-CIO labor federation and the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the group of eight senators working to draft legislation still hasn't addressed the subject of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

"Reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature,'' Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican with the group, said Sunday.

Immigration reform is a major second-term priority of President Barack Obama, and a deal would bring the most dramatic changes to the famously snarled U.S. immigration system in more than two decades. Those changes are expected to include a pathway to citizenship for the millions in the country illegally.

"There is no doubt in my mind that he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform,'' David Axelrod, a longtime political confidant of Obama, said Sunday.

In a deeply divided Congress, immigration reform has emerged as the issue mostly likely to result in legislation that can be passed by both the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives.

 Republicans have seized on immigration as a key issue after badly losing the Hispanic vote in last year's presidential election, where Obama received about 70 percent of the Latino vote. With Latinos making up a rapidly growing segment of the electorate, many Republicans have backed off their formerly tough stance and become more receptive to immigration reform. They fear their aging, largely white party might become uncompetitive in national elections.

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