After years of failed attempts, whether piecemeal or the "whole enchilada," President Barack Obama is once again trotting out a plan to overhaul the national immigration system -- and he's confident of getting it done even as controversy over gun control brews across the country.
In a proposal being hashed out behind closed doors, the president and Senate Democrats will oppose any measure that does not allow immigrants who obtain legal status to eventually become U.S. citizens, according to officials who spoke with The New York Times.
Even as the gun control debate runs its heated course in Congress, immigration reform seems to remain atop President Obama’s priorities for his second term. After the urgency on gun control following the Newtown, Conn., massacre, many had feared immigration would once again fall to the back burner.
But Obama has made clear there may be room for both.
In the last news conference of his first term Monday, the president touched on the topic briefly, saying immigration is an issue that "needs to be addressed."
The presidential initiative will come in a single bill that will address the issue for all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. That proposal would avoid the piecemeal approach favored by most Republicans, which advocates separate measures for different groups: the young, the farm workers and the highly skilled.
The president’s plan, the Times reports, would require immigrants seeking to obtain legal status to pay fines and back taxes, and would make it possible for them to pursue citizenship. It will also impose the requirement of verifying the legal status of all new employees, probably via programs similar to E-Verify, which is already in use in many states.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), often mentioned as a future GOP candidate for president, is working on a separate plan aimed specifically at DREAMers, young immigrants who came illegally to the U.S. as children. He told The Wall Street Journal last week that his plan would allow immigrants to gain temporary status and eventually apply for permanent residency, but stressed that his plan was “not blanket amnesty.”
“I don't think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5 percent of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill,” he told the Journal.. “We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration."
Outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat also possibly eyeing higher office, is also voicing his opinion on the topic.
“A pathway to legal permanent residency and citizenship … must be at the core of reform,” he wrote in Politico Monday. “Legalization should be earned, but not unattainable – a process not a punishment.”
Parallel to the White House effort, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been meeting with a group of colleagues to write a bill and plan to introduce it as early as March.