January 30, 2013 in Nation/World

Obama echoes Senate plan

Immigration proposal offers pathway to citizenship for those in U.S. illegally
Anita Kumar McClatchy-Tribune
 
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Compare: Obama and a group of senators have different ideas about how immigrants should obtain legal status /Page A10

Differences in plans

When it comes to a path for immigrants to obtain legal status, here are the differences between a bipartisan group of senators’ and President Barack Obama’s plans:

Senators:

• Create a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, but not until increased border security measures are completed.

• Create a commission of lawmakers and border-state community leaders to make a recommendation about when security measures are completed.

• While security measures are under way, illegal immigrants can register, pass background checks and pay fines and back taxes to earn “probationary legal status.”

• Once security measures are in place, immigrants on “probationary legal status” could apply for permanent residency behind other immigrants already in the system after they prove their employment history and learn English and civics.

Obama:

• Create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, with “provisional legal status” and a green card as intermediary steps, regardless of whether border security measures are completed.

• Illegal immigrants can earn “provisional legal status” by registering, passing background checks, and paying fees and penalties.

• Immigrants on “provisional legal status” could get in line for permanent residency behind other immigrants already in the system.

• Five years after receiving permanent residency, immigrants can apply for citizenship.

LAS VEGAS – President Barack Obama proposed to rewrite U.S. immigration laws Tuesday, echoing a bipartisan group of influential U.S. senators in a one-two step that signaled a changing political landscape and the best chance in a generation to change the way the nation treats those who have arrived here illegally.

“The good news is that for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together,” Obama told a diverse audience at a Las Vegas high school. “Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging.”

Many Republican leaders now support an immigration overhaul – even a pathway to citizenship – after a bruising election in which Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, though a battle remains in Congress.

The Senate will hold its first hearing Feb. 13. Legislation could be introduced by early March. If Congress is unable to move a timely proposal, Obama said, he will send his own and ask for a vote.

Some Republicans and Democrats agree on broad outlines of legislation that would allow the estimated 11 million who reside in the United States illegally to become citizens.

The president’s package is similar to – but more aggressive than – a plan the eight senators unveiled Monday.

The senators are Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republicans Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.

The biggest disagreement is over what the nation’s illegal immigrants would need to do to become citizens.

“How long until they can become legal permanent residents? How long until they can be on a concrete path to citizenship?” said Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. “That is where there is a difference of opinion.”

Under Obama’s plan, those granted work permits likely would be able to apply soon for their green cards and then start the process of citizenship, according to Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. The White House did not specify how soon.

Under the Senate plan, it could take a decade or more before immigrants could get in line for citizenship.

Another potential obstacle: Obama would allow citizens and residents to seek a visa for their same-sex partner – a provision some Republicans oppose.

Both proposals would create a nationwide system to verify the legal status of workers, punish businesses that hire illegal immigrants, allow more highly skilled immigrants to stay in the country and increase border security.

Obama, who did not push hard for an immigration overhaul in his first term, sounded hopeful Tuesday that the country and its politics are ready to embrace a sweeping change. Many Republicans signaled a willingness to consider a pathway to citizenship after Obama took 71 percent of the Latino vote in 2012.

He drew the biggest applause from his invited audience when he spoke about illegal immigrants: “A lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them.”

“Si se puede!” they chanted – roughly, “Yes, it can be done.”

Another potential boon to the prospects is the support of organized labor. Several union leaders including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka attended Obama’s speech, signaling their support. In past efforts to pass reforms, labor unions have been wary of comprehensive legislation that called for large expansions of guest-worker programs, which they called abuses of the programs and unfair competition to American laborers.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it would be foolhardy to calculate the immigration proposals put forth by Obama and senators without seeing the plans in legislative form.

“I’ve got a good indication that there’s a bipartisan desire to go forward,” he said. However, McConnell said, “I think predicting how one is going to vote on this package before it gets out of committee is something I’m not prepared to do.”

And there remains a question of how the House of Representatives will act.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has said he wants to tackle the issue this year, warned Obama to not get too partisan.

“There are a lot of ideas about how best to fix our broken immigration system,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. “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.”

Memories of the amnesty legislation of 1986 continue to haunt many Republicans. President Ronald Reagan signed that bill into law amid many of the same promises to grant legal status to illegal immigrants, clamp down on unscrupulous employers and finally secure the border. Instead, the border remained porous, companies continued to hire illegal immigrants, and illegal immigration exploded.

In 2007, a Senate plan that included a pathway to citizenship died despite backing from President George W. Bush and other Republicans. In 2010, negotiations broke down in the Senate before a plan could be completed as many states began tackling illegal immigration themselves.

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