President Barack Obama has rallied support for “common-sense, comprehensive” immigration reform.
Barack Obama made his case at a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada, a day after a bipartisan group of senators said the time was right for reform.
It partly mirrors the senators’ plan, including a path to citizenship for many of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
The move reflects the growing influence of Hispanic voters.
In his opening remarks, Barack Obama said: “The time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform.”
He noted that many of the undocumented workers believed to be in the US were already “woven into the fabric of our lives”, and there were economic imperatives for reform.
Barack Obama’s case for an immigration revamp reflects a blueprint he rolled out in 2011, though that did not go far, to the disappointment of Latino voters.
The president did not unveil legislation, but championed the proposals outlined on Monday by a group of four Democratic and four Republican senators.
“The good news is that – for the first time in many years – Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together,” Barack Obama said, urging Congress to act.
President Barack Obama has rallied support for immigration reform
Like the bipartisan plan, Barack Obama also backed an overhaul of the existing legal immigration system and securing US borders.
His 2011 blueprint also focused on a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship, as well as making it easier for businesses to verify the legal status of workers.
But he asked: “Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government?”
Barack Obama warned that immigration was a polarizing issue, even though he believed reform was “within our grasp”.
Under his previous proposal, Barack Obama required those in the US illegally to register with the government and pass a background check, as well as pay a series of fines and back taxes if necessary.
After eight years, individuals would be allowed to become legal permanent residents and could eventually become citizens five years later.
The process is similar to the path outlined by senators on Monday – paying taxes and passing background checks would allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the US legally but not qualify for benefits.
Once immigrants are able to apply for permanent residency, they would do so behind everyone else who had already applied for a green card.
But the senators’ proposals would allow undocumented immigrants to start the process of becoming citizens only after US borders are deemed secure, a link that did not feature in the president’s plan.
At their news conference on Monday, the so-called gang of eight promoted their blueprint, which they hope could pass the Senate by summer.
While passage of such a bill is not assured in the Senate, it faces a tougher route in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Many conservative lawmakers there denounce a path to legalization as an “amnesty” for lawbreakers.
But many Republicans recognize their party’s hard line on immigration has become a liability, after November’s election when the Democratic president won more than 70% of the Latino vote.
Arizona Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate who lost to Barack Obama in 2008, said on Monday: “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.”
In a conference call with his national finance committee on Wednesday, Republican Mitt Romney attributes his election loss to President Barack Obama’s “gifts” that he bestowed on minorities and young people during his first term.
Mitt Romney said Barack Obama’s win was buoyed in large part by loyal Democratic constituencies including the poor that he had promised “free health care”, the immigrants that he had protected from deportation and the college-aged women that he had offered free contraceptives.
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity? I mean, this is huge.”
“Likewise, with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus,” he added.
“But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called DREAM Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
Barack Obama announced in June that he would grant temporary amnesty to some children of undocumented immigrants who met certain requirements and had clean criminal records. The program resembled the DREAM Act, which had long been stalled in Congress.
Mitt Romney chided Barack Obama over the summer for waiting so long to address immigration reform, charging that his amnesty program was politically motivated.
“He saves these sort of things until four-and-a-half months before the general election,” Mitt Romney said in June on CBS’ Face the Nation.
“I think the timing is pretty clear. If he really wanted a solution that dealt with these kids or illegal immigration in America, then this is something he would have taken up in his first three-and-a-half years, not in his last few months.”
Now Mitt Romney is saying that the program is what persuaded Hispanics to support Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney attributes his election loss to Barack Obama’s gifts that he bestowed on minorities and young people during his first term
Mitt Romney won 59% of the white vote, while Barack Obama was backed by 93% of black voters, 71% of Latinos and 60% of voters younger than 30, according to exit polls.
He said that Barack Obama directed his campaign according to the “old playbook” of targeting specific groups with promises of legislation that would persuade them to vote a certain way.
“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mitt Romney said.
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift,” Mitt Romney said.
“Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people.
“They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008,” Mitt Romney said.
Similarly, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, blamed the Republican ticket’s loss on high turnout among “urban” voters.
“I think the surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race,” Paul Ryan told a television station in Wisconsin.
“When we watched Virginia and Ohio coming in, and those ones coming in as tight as they were, and looking like we were going to lose them, that’s when it became clear we weren’t going to win.”
Mitt Romney told his finance team that the sting of his loss was still too strong to begin mapping out his plans going forward for himself and for the Republican Party.
“I am very sorry that we didn’t win,” he said.
“I know that you expected to win. We expected to win… It was very close, but close doesn’t count in this business.”
Mitt Romney added: “And so now we’re looking and saying, <<O.K., what can we do going forward?>>. But frankly we’re still so troubled by the past, it’s hard to put together our plans from the future.”
Barack Obama’s “gifts”
Mitt Romney says President Barack Obama targeted blacks, Hispanics and young people with certain “gifts” including:
- Obamacare’s provisions allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans through age 26
- A program that caps federal student loan payments at 10% of income and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years of consistent payments
- Temporary deportation exemptions granted to young illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements
- Requirement that most employers provide health insurance covering birth control
Undocumented immigrants are applying for the temporary right to live and work openly in the US, as a sweeping immigration policy reform takes effect.
Up to 1.7 million people could be eligible for the programme, unveiled in June by President Barack Obama amid pressure from Hispanic voters.
Republicans say Barack Obama has passed over Congress – and unemployed US citizens – with the programme.
The Latino vote could be important in November’s presidential election.
Most of the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the US are from Latin America.
Illegal immigrants are getting their records in order as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) starts accepting applications.
Undocumented immigrants are applying for the temporary right to live and work openly in the US, as a sweeping immigration policy reform takes effect
In an internal document, DHS officials estimated 1.04 million people would apply in the first year.
The Migration Policy Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center have estimated as many as 1.7 million people could be eligible under the programme.
The administration’s plan is to stop deporting many illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children.
To be eligible, immigrants must prove they arrived in the US before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, have been living here at least five years and are in school or graduated or served in the military.
They also cannot have been convicted of certain crimes.
The measure has echoes of the so-called Dream Act, which offered permanent residency to young undocumented immigrants, but failed to pass after years of congressional stalemate.
“Childhood arrivals who meet the guidelines and whose cases are deferred will now be able to live without fear of removal, and be able to more fully contribute their talents to our great nation,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
But conservatives accused Barack Obama of political pandering as he and Republican White House rival Mitt Romney compete for the Hispanic voting bloc ahead of November’s elections.
Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said on Tuesday: “While potentially millions of illegal immigrants will be permitted to compete with American workers for scarce jobs, there seems to be little if any mechanism in place for vetting fraudulent applications and documentation submitted by illegal immigrants.”
The Obama administration detailed on Tuesday what documents illegal immigrants need to qualify for the programme.
The paperwork for the programme can be downloaded from the immigration services website.
Applicants must pay a $465 fee and provide proof of identity and eligibility.
This could include a passport or birth certificate, school transcripts, medical and financial records, military service records and, in some cases, multiple sworn affidavits.
A decision on each application could take several months, and immigrants have been warned not to leave the country while their paperwork is being processed.
Advocacy groups are planning to run events this week to help migrants get their paperwork in order.