December 9, 2012

Obama's next goal: comprehensive immigration reform

The president wants a catch-all bill that secures the border and offers a path to citizenship, officials say.

By BRIAN BENNETT McClatchy News Service

(Continued from page 1)

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Members of immigration rights organizations, including Casa in Action and Maryland Dream Act, demonstrate in front of the White House last month, calling on President Obama to fulfill his promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform. Obama is expected to heed those calls early in his second term by pushing for sweeping changes in a wide-ranging bill.

File photos/The Associated Press

Barack Obama
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President Obama, gesturing during a recent speech, is preparing to make the case for how changes in immigration laws could benefit businesses, education, health care and public safety. Congressional committees could hold hearings on immigration legislation as soon as late January or early February.

One option is to dust off more than 300 pages of draft legislative language for a large immigration bill that went through a time-consuming Cabinet-level review in 2010 and was quietly handed to members of the Senate.

The 2010 initiative, led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., died in back-room negotiations when it was clear the senators couldn't muster the votes to get it passed.

The draft language creates a renewable visa for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. and allows them to eventually get in line for a green card after they submit to background checks, learn English and pay back taxes and a fine. The proposal also would require employers to use a federal database to check workers' immigration status, among other provisions.

Some lawmakers prefer that the White House not dictate the terms of the bill and leave the hard negotiations to an informal group with representatives from both parties as a way to avoid a contentious ideological fight in the committees, said two congressional staffers who were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.

A bipartisan group of six senators met behind closed doors in the Capitol for 30 minutes Tuesday night for what is expected to be the first of many meetings on how to get a version of the immigration bill through Congress. On the Republican side, the newly elected junior senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, joined longtime immigration reform advocates Graham and John McCain of Arizona for the talks. The Democrats were Schumer, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

But Angela Kelley, an immigration expert with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, believes that Obama will have to step into the limelight, as he has over budget negotiations, to get something done on immigration.

"The congressional conversation has started," Kelley said. "It isn't something (Obama) can take his time on, because the cameras and the microphones will be on him asking, 'What are you doing about it?' and he will have to have a ready answer."

 

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