WASHINGTON - The U.S. Congress reconvenes this week amid signs of progress on a thorny issue: reforming America’s much-criticized immigration system.
President Barack Obama says foreign-born workers have always contributed to America’s economic prowess.
“The promise we see in those who come from all over the world is one of our greatest strengths. It has kept our workforce young. It keeps our businesses on the cutting edge," he said.
Now, U.S. business and union leaders are reporting a deal on a guest worker program for low-skilled laborers, potentially removing a key obstacle to an overhaul of federal immigration laws.
“The time has come for comprehensive, sensible immigration reform," said Obama.
Lawmakers in both houses of Congress are crafting reform bills that are expected to provide an eventual path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11-million undocumented foreign nationals in the country. That would be paired with heightened efforts to secure U.S. borders and halt the flow of illegal immigrants.
Two champions of immigration reform - Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer - recently visited the U.S. border with Mexico.
“With the proper use of technology, we will be able to say we have a degree of border security that will enable people to move toward a path to citizenship," he said.
But fellow-Republican Senator Marco Rubio is cautioning that reports of bipartisan consensus are premature. In a statement, Rubio said legislative deliberations on immigration reform “cannot be rushed.”
President Obama says he is optimistic. “My sense is that they [lawmakers] have come close, and my expectation is that we will actually see a bill on the floor of the Senate next month [in April]," he said.
The White House is also pressing for gun reform. This week, the president travels to Denver, Colorado, where he will discuss proposals to curb gun violence in the United States. Obama says the nation must not forget last year’s mass-shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
“Less than 100 days ago that happened and the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten," he said.
Foreign affairs will also command Washington’s attention, including escalating tensions with North Korea. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“All of the nations in that region are committed to a pathway to peace, and the North Koreans seem to be heading in a different direction," he said.
Hagel added that the United States and its allies must be prepared for “any eventuality” concerning North Korea.