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Obama on immigration overhaul: 'Now is the time'

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, January 24, 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, January 24, 2013.

LAS VEGAS — Declaring "now is the time" to fix the nation's broken immigration system, President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined broad proposals for putting millions of illegal immigrants on a clear path to citizenship while cracking down on businesses that employ people illegally and tightening security at the borders. He hailed a bipartisan Senate group on a similar track but left unresolved key details that could derail the complex and emotional effort.

Potential Senate roadblocks center on how to structure the avenue to citizenship and on whether legislation would cover same-sex couples — and that's all before a Senate measure could be debated, approved and sent to the Republican-controlled House where opposition is sure to be stronger.

Obama, who carried Nevada in the November election with heavy Hispanic support, praised the Senate push, saying Congress is showing "a genuine desire to get this done soon." But mindful of previous immigrations efforts that have failed, he warned that the debate would be difficult and vowed to send his own legislation to Capitol Hill if lawmakers don't act quickly.

"The question now is simple," Obama said during a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, one week after being sworn in for a second term in the White House. "Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do."

Shortly after Obama finished speaking, cracks emerged between the White House and the group of eight senators, which put out their proposals one day ahead of the president. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, faulted Obama for not making a citizenship pathway contingent on tighter border security, a central tenet of the lawmakers' proposals.

"The president's speech left the impression that he believes reforming immigration quickly is more important than reforming immigration right," Rubio said in a statement.

House Speaker John Boehner also responded coolly, with spokesman Brendan Buck saying the Ohio Republican hoped the president would be "careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate."

Despite possible obstacles to come, the broad agreement between the White House and bipartisan lawmakers in the Senate represents a drastic shift in Washington's willingness to tackle immigration, an issue that has languished for years. Much of that shift is politically motivated, due to the growing influence of Hispanics in presidential and other elections and their overwhelming support for Obama in November.

The separate White House and Senate proposals focus on the same principles: providing a way for most of the estimated 11 million people already in the U.S. illegally to become citizens, strengthening border security, cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and streamlining the legal immigration system.

A consensus around the question of citizenship could help lawmakers clear one major hurdle that has blocked previous immigration efforts. Many Republicans have opposed allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens, saying that would be an unfair reward for people who have broken the law.

Details on how to achieve a pathway to citizenship still could prove to be a major sticking point between the White House and the Senate group.

Obama and the Senate lawmakers all want to require people here illegally to register with the government, pass criminal and national security background checks, pay fees and penalties as well as back taxes and wait until existing immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line for green cards. Neither proposal backs up those requirements with specifics.

After achieving legal status, U.S. law says people can become citizens after five years.

The Senate proposal says that entire process couldn't start until the borders were fully secure and tracking of people in the U.S. on visas had improved. Those vague requirements would almost certainly make the timeline for achieving citizenship longer than what the White House is proposing.

The president urged lawmakers to avoid making the citizenship pathway so difficult that it would appear out of reach for many illegal immigrants.

"We all agree that these men and women have to earn their way to citizenship," he said. "But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must make clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship."

"It won't be a quick process, but it will be a fair process," Obama added.

Another key difference between the White House and Senate proposals is the administration's plan to allow same-sex partners to seek visas under the same rules that govern other family immigration. The Senate principles do not recognize same-sex partners, though Democratic lawmakers have told gay rights groups that they could seek to include that in a final bill.

John McCain of Arizona, who is part of the Senate immigration group, called the issue a "red flag" in an interview Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

Washington last took up immigration changes in a serious way in 2007, when then-President George W. Bush pressed for an overhaul. The initial efforts had bipartisan support but eventually collapsed in the Senate because of a lack of GOP support.

Cognizant of that failed effort, the White House has readied its own immigration legislation. But officials said Obama will send it to the Hill only if the Senate process stalls.

Most of the recommendations Obama made Tuesday were not new. They were included in the immigration blueprint he released in 2011, but he exerted little political capital to get it passed by Congress, to the disappointment of many Hispanics.

Some of the recommendations in the Senate plan are also pulled from past immigration efforts. The senators involved in formulating the latest proposals, in addition to McCain and Rubio, are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Also Tuesday, in another sign of Congress' increased attention to immigration issues, a group of four senators introduced legislation aimed at allowing more high-tech workers into the country, a longtime priority of technology businesses. The bill by Republicans Rubio and Orrin Hatch and Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons would increase the number of visas available for high-tech workers, make it easier for them to change jobs once here and for their spouses to work and aim to make it easier for foreigners at U.S. universities to remain here upon graduation.

Comments

notblind 1 year, 6 months ago

Every item mentioned in the article will result in a further loss of real wages for the citizens of this country. If we need "high-tech workers" we need to be training or retraining American citizens instead of importing workers that will be paid a fraction of the wages of the American citizen he is displacing. The underlying stupidity of this action is that the high paid American would pay a lot of taxes as compared to the foreigner and the American is going to spend more of his money in this country aiding our economy. "Our representatives" are not representing you and me.

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Mack711 1 year, 6 months ago

If he wants to put them on the path to citizenship then round them up and send them back to the country that they came from and let them apply there. Legally, and follow the correct path. Not the way they want it done. He has just sent the word for anyone to come into this country illegally and not be deported. Some think that all he wants is to get them to start paying Taxes to pay for the deficit. If that is the case then they are not entitled to ANY benefits that a regular citizen now gets and that includes health care and drivers license. Take a look at Illinois, they are bank rupt but handing out driver license.

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news2me 1 year, 6 months ago

When Obama was given the presidency on a silver platter from his worshippers, yet again, I began to wonder if we were getting any new illegals in anticipation of this. Of these 11 million (lowball) that have been here for decades, they have had years and lots of opportunity to do the right thing. So we let people that have broken our laws the longest have the easier path?

This all sounds weak and opens the opportunity for us to be invaded with even more unwanted illegals. What makes him think that these people even want to become citizens, especially if there is a high chance they fail their requirements and get deported.

Seal the borders and make ILLEGAL mean something before any of this gets put into place. Send a strong message to the tax paying citizens of this country and immigrants that have been waiting in line that WE matter more than any Illegal Alien. Our country will be further destroyed if we don't act strong. Our national security and World status is at grave risk if we don't stand our ground.

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kevin 1 year, 6 months ago

stop hiring companies to do work for you unless you get them to write in a statement that says no illegal person will perform work on your property, else the contract is void.

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news2me 1 year, 5 months ago

I would like to see our Military used here in many ways. Retired service men & women could be trained for these jobs that Obama wants to give to Illegals.

Also we must keep our Military strong and active, it would be foolish to think our enemies are not just waiting for our troops to withdrawl abroad and our military to shrink (think N Korea + Nukes for starters). In the meantime, troops are needed to protect our borders. Military intelligence can be used for background checks and citizenship approval or rejection.

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kevin 1 year, 5 months ago

Why pass any laws? Obama doesn't enforce them.

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