WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama crossed the country Tuesday to launch a public campaign to reform U.S. immigration policies. Senators from both parties also have a reform proposal.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, President Obama said this is the right time to fix America’s broken immigration system.
“I am here today because the time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now. Now is the time,” he said.
The president offered his plan one day after eight senators - four of them Democrats, and four Republicans - introduced their immigration blueprint. He welcomed the new consensus between the two parties on the need for action.
Obama called for improvements in several areas of immigration policy, including a way for illegal immigrants to eventually gain legal citizenship.
“Smarter enforcement, a pathway to earn citizenship, improvements in the legal immigration system, so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest all around the world,” Obama said.
The president said a path to citizenship should include passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English and then going to the back of the line.
Lynn Tramonte, with the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice Education Fund, says the status of illegal immigrants is the main issue to be settled.
“The centerpiece of immigration reform, from our point of view, is dealing with the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, and having a clear, fair, reasonable path to citizenship for them. That is sort of the missing piece in the immigration puzzle,” Tramonte said.
Administration officials say the Senate agreement is consistent with Mr. Obama’s principles on immigration. But the president said that if the bipartisan Senate plan fails, he will put forward his own proposal.
Despite the bipartisan agreement, Senate passage is not assured, and prospects could be more difficult in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama asked Tuesday what good a new immigration law would do if existing ones are not enforced.
“We believe that people should wait their time, and people should be able to be accepted here - over a million a year - in an orderly process, not a disorderly process, and that we should not be rewarding those who violate the law, and making even harder for those who try to comply with the law,” Sessions said.
Still, Republicans, who had often opposed immigration reform legislation in recent years, have shown renewed interest in the issue.
Immigration is an important issue to Hispanic Americans, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic group. Obama and other Democratic candidates won an overwhelming percentage of the Hispanic vote in last November’s elections.
Immigration advocate Lynn Tramonte says those losses have pushed Republicans to change their position on the issue.
“They have, now, experienced losing elections because of the Latino vote and because of their immigration position. And they are speaking up publicly, saying that they need to change,” Tramonte said.
The president also said he wants tighter enforcement of immigration laws for employers, and a faster process to unite citizens with their families from other countries.