Obama clearing path to citizenship for illegals


US President Barack Obama. AP FILE PHOTO

LAS VEGAS—US President Barack Obama declared that “now is the time” to fix the broken US immigration system, diving into the politically explosive issue with 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.

Obama, speaking on Tuesday at a campaign-style rally in Las Vegas, sought to win public support for changes that would give an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens.

The president hailed a bipartisan Senate group working on a similar track but left unresolved key details that could derail the complex and emotional effort.

“The question now is simple,” Obama said, 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.”

Bipartisan support

Immigration has quickly and surprisingly emerged as a rare issue with at least some kind of bipartisan support in a deeply divided Congress, where gun control and tackling the massive deficit face far bigger fights ahead.

The dueling immigration campaigns have emerged as a consequence of the November presidential election, which gave Obama more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in a defeat of Republican rival Mitt Romney, who famously urged illegal immigrants to “self-deport.”

Republican lawmakers who had previously opposed immigration reform have been forced to reconsider it and rebuild the party’s reputation among Hispanics, an increasingly powerful political force.

Immigration advocates said they expected the president’s proposals to be more progressive than those featured in a bipartisan Senate plan announced on Monday, including a faster pathway to citizenship.

“Yes, they broke the rules,” Obama said on Tuesday of those who illegally entered the country. “But these 11 million men and women are now here. … An overwhelming number of these individuals are not looking for any trouble.”

Tighter border control

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. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, from the border state of Arizona, criticized Obama for not making a citizenship pathway contingent on tighter border security, a central tenet of the lawmakers’ proposals.

“This provision is key to ensuring that border security is achieved, and is also necessary to ensure that a reform package can actually move through Congress,” Flake said in a statement.

Passage of emotionally charged immigration legislation by the Democratic-controlled Senate remains far from assured, and the House of Representatives is dominated by conservative Republicans who have shown little interest in immigration overhaul. The Republican base opposes anything that might resemble an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Some Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, responded cautiously to the proposals from the president, and the Senate group, which put forward its proposals one day earlier.

“Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the president is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate,” said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesperson.

Hispanics wooed

Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008, said on Monday that members of his party should realize that supporting immigration legislation could boost Republican prospects in future elections.

“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,” McCain said.

With a reelected Obama pledging his commitment, the bipartisan group of senators on Monday argued that the chances for approval of immigration legislation were much better this year.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer argued that polls showed more support than ever for immigration changes and political risk in opposing it.

Most of Obama’s recommendations are not new. He outlined an immigration blueprint in May 2011 but exerted little political capital to get it passed by Congress, to the disappointment of many Hispanics.

His original plan centered on four key areas: A pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, improved border security, an overhaul of the legal immigration system and making it easier for businesses to verify the legal status of workers.

Draft legislation

Administration officials said they were encouraged to see the Senate backing the same broad principles. In part because of the fast action in Congress, Obama does not plan to send lawmakers formal immigration legislation.

However, officials said the White House does have legislation drafted and could fall back on it should the Senate process stall. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal strategy.


Senate framework

Obama’s previous proposals for creating a pathway to citizenship required those already in the United States illegally to register with the government and submit to security checks; pay registration fees, a series of fines and back taxes; and learn English. After eight years, individuals would be allowed to become legal permanent residents and could eventually become citizens five years later.

The Senate group’s pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the United States would be contingent upon securing the border and improving tracking of people in the United States on visas. Linking citizenship to border security could become a sticking point between the White House and lawmakers.

The Senate framework would also require those here illegally to pass background checks and pay fines and taxes in order to qualify for a “probationary legal status” that would allow them to live and work here—but not qualify for federal benefits—before being able to apply for permanent residency, a critical step toward citizenship. Once they are allowed to apply they would do so behind everyone else already waiting for permanent residency status within the current immigration system.  AP

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  • nes911

    An illegal act turning legal? Obama could not be so serious on this matyer.

  • Reynaldo Quijada

    Of course the illegal Fil_Ams have all the reason to celebrate. But is Obama doing this out of benevolence?? Perhaps yes but largely this measure by Obama is to solve the increasing cost of health care that their social system is providing to more and ever increasing old members Americans. They need new members, one million illegal Fil Am is a sizeable number to bail out their social security from bankruptcy. They have to be legalized for them to join the social security system and pay their premiums. There should be more funds coming in from healthy and young members than funds disbursed for benefits for member benefits for any social security system to survive. The American social security system is bleeding because due to RH or contraceptive mentality and abortion, there are less and less new members joining their social security system than members availing benefits mainly due to old age.

    • Mamerto

      “Over-developed” economies (countries) are mostly, under-populated.
      Red China, the Second-Largest Economy(?), is also over-populated, but 
      with lots & lots of “starving citizens” within its borders

    • Tabingdagat

      “there are less and less members joining their social security system…….” You don’t know nothing about the Social Security System in America. Little knowledge is very dangerous.

  • Noel

    It takes a Black President to initiate immigration reforms.  Most TNTs would now choose to stay longer instead of returning home.  Good and bad.  It’s up to you to figure out.

  • nakawan

    This immigration reform of Obama’s is a huge joke. It’s a glorified squatter program much like that ridiculous Lina Law we have in the Philippines. So they validate illegals now… but where does the entry of illegals end?  Also, what work programs does the US have in place for all these immigrants when they can’t even manage to get jobs for their own citizens?  How can they allow illegals to work and live there legally but not give them Federal benefits?  It’s too vague.  This is sounds like another band aid solution to a wound that will escalate into a bigger infection later.

  • isbuk02

    why not prioritise those people who applied for US citizenship and is still pending for over ten years in US embassy and not those people who managed to sneaked in illegally?

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