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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Two veteran senators pushing immigration reform Thursday insisted their bill was still alive, despite growing doubts it has a chance in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

John McCain and Chuck Schumer’s optimism survived even though House Republicans signaled Wednesday they would ditch a comprehensive approach to fix the immigration system favored by the Senate and the White House.

“We have seen a large percentage of the House realizing that doing nothing is not an option,” Schumer said after he and McCain met President Barack Obama, for whom the reform bid is a legacy project. “Yesterday was an encouraging day on the path to immigration reform.”

Both Schumer, a Democrat, and McCain, a Republican, insisted a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants was a crucial part of the reform, despite opposition among many House Republicans.

McCain stressed that the Senate respected the House’s prerogative to pass its own bill, which would then be merged with the version that has already passed the other chamber.

“The message to our colleagues in the House is we are ready to negotiate — we are ready to talk,” said McCain.

House Republican leaders, however, have warned that they will adopt a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, rather than the sweeping approach the Senate has taken to secure borders and deal with illegal immigrants.

There appears to be some support for efforts to tighten border security and to overhaul work visas among House Republicans, but a path to citizenship, branded by some conservatives as “amnesty” appears a step too far.

National Republican leaders recognize that scuppering immigration reform could be politically disastrous, given the issue’s importance to the increasingly powerful Hispanic voting bloc.

But many House Republicans, with few Hispanics in their districts, have little incentive to back a bill fiercely condemned as “amnesty” by many conservatives.

The White House, which stayed in the background for much of the Senate debate on immigration reform last month, is trying to crank up the pressure on House Republicans to force them to pass the bill.

Schumer told reporters that Obama, who made immigration reform a strong plank of his re-election effort last year had been playing it “perfectly” by encouraging reform behind the scenes.

McCain said the president was entitled to join the debate, but warned that the challenge was to win over skeptical House Republicans, — a task to which the Democratic president was not ideally suited.

“The president is walking a careful line here,” McCain added.

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