Barack Obama urges Congress to act on immigration reform
President Barack Obama has rallied support for “common-sense, comprehensive” immigration reform.
Barack Obama made his case at a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada, a day after a bipartisan group of senators said the time was right for reform.
It partly mirrors the senators’ plan, including a path to citizenship for many of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
The move reflects the growing influence of Hispanic voters.
In his opening remarks, Barack Obama said: “The time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform.”
He noted that many of the undocumented workers believed to be in the US were already “woven into the fabric of our lives”, and there were economic imperatives for reform.
Barack Obama’s case for an immigration revamp reflects a blueprint he rolled out in 2011, though that did not go far, to the disappointment of Latino voters.
The president did not unveil legislation, but championed the proposals outlined on Monday by a group of four Democratic and four Republican senators.
“The good news is that – for the first time in many years – Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together,” Barack Obama said, urging Congress to act.
Like the bipartisan plan, Barack Obama also backed an overhaul of the existing legal immigration system and securing US borders.
His 2011 blueprint also focused on a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship, as well as making it easier for businesses to verify the legal status of workers.
But he asked: “Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government?”
Barack Obama warned that immigration was a polarizing issue, even though he believed reform was “within our grasp”.
Under his previous proposal, Barack Obama required those in the US illegally to register with the government and pass a background check, as well as pay a series of fines and back taxes if necessary.
After eight years, individuals would be allowed to become legal permanent residents and could eventually become citizens five years later.
The process is similar to the path outlined by senators on Monday – paying taxes and passing background checks would allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the US legally but not qualify for benefits.
Once immigrants are able to apply for permanent residency, they would do so behind everyone else who had already applied for a green card.
But the senators’ proposals would allow undocumented immigrants to start the process of becoming citizens only after US borders are deemed secure, a link that did not feature in the president’s plan.
At their news conference on Monday, the so-called gang of eight promoted their blueprint, which they hope could pass the Senate by summer.
While passage of such a bill is not assured in the Senate, it faces a tougher route in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Many conservative lawmakers there denounce a path to legalization as an “amnesty” for lawbreakers.
But many Republicans recognize their party’s hard line on immigration has become a liability, after November’s election when the Democratic president won more than 70% of the Latino vote.
Arizona Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate who lost to Barack Obama in 2008, said on Monday: “The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens.
“And we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a pre-eminent issue with those citizens.”
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