The comprehensive immigration reform proposal spread out Jan. 29 in Las Vegas by President Obama could eventually put as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants, about 80 percent of whom are Hispanic, on a path to U.S. citizenship.
It could also light up the sky with an awesome display of political fireworks by the Fourth of July.
While Obama’s 25-minute televised speech was seen and heard by millions and then regurgitated and analyzed for days by print as well as broadcast media, its message was clearly directed to those 535 members of Congress who must sign off before it reaches his desk for signature.
The stakes — the President’s reputation, the future viability of the Republican Party and the welfare of the Hispanic community — are enormous.
Congress gets together
Obama’s plan came a day after “the gang of eight” senators — Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona — introduced theirs. In the president’s framework, a path to citizenship not tied to border enforcement would be included. It would also afford petitioning rights to same-sex couples.
The president offered extra considerations for agribusiness and family reunification, easing sponsorship regulations and raising the annual cap from seven to 15 percent. It would provide an expedited path to “innocent” young people who commit to serve in the military or pursue higher education. The Senate’s plan would do the same for undocumented youth and agricultural workers.
Both proposals emphasize border and workplace security, but the senators make citizenship contingent on stronger border enforcement measures. Immigrants in STEM fields would have an easier visa path. Both plans call for stricter criteria that would include background checks, paying any due taxes and penalties and learning English for permanent residency.
At a Jan. 30 news conference called by Senate Democratic leadership in which only Senators Schumer and Durbin, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid participated, Schumer responded to a reporter’s question whether citizenship is tied to verification of a “secure border.” He said a “metric” system would be established by the Department of Homeland Security to ascertain when border security guidelines have been met. He added, “Dick and I, and Bob as well as our … Republican friends want to make sure the border is secured but not to use it as a barrier to prevent 11 million from eventually gaining path to citizenship.”