National briefs: Immigration deal unfolding

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WASHINGTON -- Senators working on a comprehensive immigration plan are quietly talking about letting people into the United States by giving more weight to potential job skills and less weight to family connections than now exists -- a departure from the current system and one sure to rile immigrant advocates while pleasing business interests.

The system would award points for a person's various characteristics, and it would place greater emphasis than the current system on future immigrants' ability to make long-term economic contributions.

The legislation also is likely to increase significantly the number of visas for highly skilled tech workers, reduce some categories of family visas and increase border control and workplace security measures.

The senators -- the so-called "Gang of Eight" -- hope to introduce a bill next month, but before they can, they have to come to agreement on how to deal with the United States' future flow of immigrants.

54 schools will close

CHICAGO -- Tens of thousands of Chicago students, parents and teachers learned Thursday their schools were on a long-feared list of 54 the city plans to close in an effort to stabilize an educational system facing a huge budget shortfall.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the closures are necessary because too many Chicago Public School buildings are half-empty, with 403,000 students in a system that has seats for more than 500,000. But opponents say the closures will further erode troubled neighborhoods and endanger students who may have to cross gang boundaries to attend school. The schools slated for closure are all elementary schools and are overwhelmingly black and in low-income neighborhoods.

Interior nomination moves

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Sally Jewell's nomination to become the next head of the Interior Department by a vote of 19-3 Thursday, after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agreed to look again at whether to allow a road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

But Ms. Jewell's path to confirmation is far from clear. More work has to be done to assuage the concerns of committee members, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel's top Republican, even though the Alaska dispute is resolved.

Microsoft reveals numbers

SEATTLE -- Microsoft on Thursday disclosed for the first time the number of requests it had received from government law enforcement agencies for data on its hundreds of millions of customers around the world, joining the ranks of Google, Twitter and other Web businesses that publish so-called transparency reports.

The report, which Microsoft said it planned to update every six months, showed that law enforcement agencies in five countries -- Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and the United States -- accounted for 69 percent of the 70,665 requests the company received last year.

Massive industry tax cut

JUNEAU, Alaska -- The Alaska state Senate voted Wednesday night by the barest of margins to approve a massive tax cut for the oil industry in the hope that it would lead to more oil production in Alaska.

The vote on Senate Bill 21 was 11-9, with only Republicans supporting the measure. Two other Republicans joined the Senate's seven Democrats in voting against the bill. The bill will cost the state treasury billions of dollars over the next decade, but supporters say it eventually will lead to greater oil production.



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