Obama Considering Path to Citizenship as Part of Immigration Reform

Obama Considering Path to Citizenship as Part of Immigration Reform

The Hill.com reported that President Obama intends to push lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for most illegal immigrants, according to a report in the New York Times.

The report, citing senior administration officials, said the White House would press Senate Democrats for action on the measure in the coming months.

Despite coming battles over the budget and the administration’s high-profile push to stem gun violence, Obama has said that immigration reform will be a top priority in his second term.

The move marks a divide with GOP lawmakers, who have suggested that immigration reform be handled piecemeal, with separate bills addressing contentious issues. Many Republicans have also said they will oppose measures allowing citizenship, blasting such ideas as “amnesty.”

White House officials in the report say their proposal would not grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, insisting on fines and back taxes for those seeking legal status. Democrats will also resist any legislation that fails to create opportunities for illegal immigrants to become American citizens, according to the Times.

The plan would also impose a national verification system for all workers, as well as a guest-worker program and efforts to boost the number of high-skilled immigrants.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is also working on a plan, according to the Times and the administration and senators are negotiating over whose proposal will be introduced first.

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that the president could lay out the framework for an immigration proposal in his State of the Union address, which will be delivered on Feb. 12.

“I would say, broadly speaking, that State of the Union addresses tend to include at least a sample of a president’s agenda,” Carney said on Wednesday. “And immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, is a very high priority of the president’s. But I don’t want to get ahead of the speech.”

At a press conference in November, after his reelection, Obama said he was “very confident that we can get immigration reform done,” and outlined some of his expectations for legislation.

“I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we’ve taken,” said the president. “I think it should contain serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and taking advantage of them. And I do think that there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work.”

Obama has faced pressure from immigration-reform proponents in his own party to act quickly, amid concern the issue could lose attention as lawmakers tackle the debt ceiling and gun control.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told The Hill he wants to “get the process rolling” on immigration reform legislation soon and said he believed both parties were “closer” to a deal on immigration than on budget issues or gun violence.

But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been a GOP leader on the issue, on Saturday said Obama had “poisoned the well” on immigration reform, criticizing a policy change enacted months before the election which halted the deportation of some young illegals and began issuing them work permits.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Rubio expressed skepticism that Obama would tackle the issue and suggested that Obama’s inaction benefited Democrats politically.

Rubio has outlined a plan which would provide a pathway for citizenship for illegal immigrants, but would also have the U.S. “move toward merit and skill-based immigration” in the future. Rubio has also called for revamping the guest-worker system and pushed technological solutions to help employers better verify that workers hold legal status.