WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will try to rally support Tuesday for an immigration overhaul that would give millions of illegal immigrants a pathway to US citizenship while tightening border security, building on a similar proposal by a bipartisan group of influential senators and pointing the way to the first significant change to the famously snarled system in about two decades.
The president will launch his plan at a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, addressing an issue that has languished in Washington for years. Administration officials said Obama would largely endorse the senators’ efforts, though immigration advocates said they expected Obama’s proposals to be more progressive, including a faster pathway to citizenship.
The simultaneous immigration campaigns come in the wake of the November presidential election, where Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in a defeat of Republican rival Mitt Romney, who famously urged illegal immigrants to “self-deport.” Republican lawmakers who had previously opposed immigration reform were forced to reconsider it and rebuild the party’s reputation among Hispanics, an increasingly powerful political force.
With the turnaround, immigration has surprisingly emerged as the rare issue with at least some kind of bipartisan support in a deeply divided Congress, where gun control and tackling the massive deficit face far bigger fights ahead.
Still, passage of emotionally charged immigration legislation by the Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, and the House of Representatives is dominated by conservative Republicans who have shown little interest in immigration overhaul. The Republican base opposes anything that might resemble an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
But Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008, said members of his party should realize that supporting immigration legislation could boost Republican prospects in future elections.
“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,” McCain said.
With a re-elected Obama pledging his commitment, the bipartisan group of senators on Monday argued that the chances for approval of immigration legislation are much better this year.
“Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. “But we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done. The politics on this issue have been turned upside down.”
Schumer argued that polls show more support than ever for immigration changes and political risk in opposing it.