President Obama will begin his push for sweeping reform of the nation’s immigration laws – a major campaign promise that was embraced by Latino voters in November – on Tuesday in Las Vegas, the White House announced on Friday.
The announcement that Mr. Obama would pursue legislation that, in the words of the White House, “must include a path to earned citizenship” for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country, came after a late morning meeting with congressional immigration reform advocates.
The president met with seven members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) – six House members and one senator, Bob Menendez (D) of New Jersey – to discuss strategy and policy for the coming immigration reform debate, according to broad details of the meeting provided by congressional aides and the White House.
“The president is the quarterback and he will direct the team, call the play, and be pivotal if we succeed,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois, the House’s most seasoned immigration reform legislator.
“I am very optimistic based on conversations with Republicans in the House and Senate that we will do more than just talk about the immigration issue this year,” he added. Congressman Gutierrez was the leading Democratic House sponsor of the last drive for comprehensive immigration reform during the George W. Bush administration.
Democrats aren’t the only ones mulling a plan. Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida has offered the broad contours of a conservative immigration reform proposal in recent weeks, albeit one featuring a longer, more difficult path to US citizenship than Democrats or the president are likely to favor.
In the House, Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho told reporters that he met with colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee this week to discuss immigration reform proposals. Representative Labrador, who worked as an immigration lawyer for more than a decade, does not favor a path to citizenship for most unauthorized immigrants.
A bipartisan group of eight senators is reportedly close to a deal on comprehensive reform measures and could announce a proposal as soon as next Friday, according to several reports.
What could the president’s proposal look like? The legislative principles put forward by the CHC in November are “in line” with what the president wants, according to a release from Representative Gutierrez’s office.
Those include measures to reduce backlogs for immigration of the spouses and children of US citizens; retain high-skilled graduates of American universities in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields; provide special considerations, including a route to citizenship, for young illegal immigrants known as DREAMers; and a program to provide workers for the nation’s agriculture industry.
The CHC’s proposals also call for providing workplace protections for immigrant workers; “smart and reasonable” border protection; creation of a citizenship verification system in the workplace, and “ensure all workers pay their fair share of taxes, fully integrate into our way of life, and bear the same responsibilities as all Americans.”
While immigration reform was a key Obama campaign promise before his first term, the president failed to make good on that vow during the last four years. Immigrant advocates have frequently criticized the president for his immigration policy during his first term, which saw a record number of deportations and little legislative or political muscle put behind immigration initiatives until the president offered temporary relief for young undocumented immigrants during the heat of the 2012 campaign.
On Friday, the White House noted that immigration reform was "a top legislative priority."