Obama to announce his immigration reform plan, said to be more liberal than Senate effort
Carolyn Kaster/AP -
The Obama administration has developed its own
proposals for immigration reform that are more liberal than a separate bipartisan effort in the Senate, including a
quicker path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, people with knowledge of the
President Obama is expected to provide some details of the White House plans
during a Tuesday appearance in Las Vegas, where he will call for broad changes
to the nation’s immigration laws. The speech will kick off a public push by the
administration in support of the broadest overhaul of immigration law in nearly
Obama plans to praise the proposals laid out Monday by an eight-member Senate
working group, saying they reflect the core tenets of the administration’s immigration blueprint developed in
2011, a senior administration official said.
But the president’s remarks also are likely to emphasize differences that
could foreshadow roadblocks to passage in Congress at a time when both parties
say there is momentum for a comprehensive deal.
For example, the Senate proposal would let illegal immigrants obtain legal
residency quickly. But it would not allow them to seek full citizenship until
border security had been improved and a new system was in place for employers to
verify the employment status of workers.
Obama will not endorse such a proposal, the administration official said. The
president intends to make clear the need for a more straightforward route for
undocumented workers and students to obtain citizenship, reflecting fears among
advocates that a cumbersome process would create a decades-long wait for some
“We see the Senate principles as a centrist set of principles, but we expect
the administration to be more detailed to the left,” said Frank Sharry,
executive director of America’s Voice, a leading immigration advocacy group. “I
don’t think it’ll be an immigration advocate’s dream, but it will be a solid
White House press secretary Jay Carney sought to close the gap between the
White House and the Senate group during his daily briefing with reporters
Monday, calling the Capitol Hill announcement “a big deal” because it includes a
path to citizenship supported by four senators from each party. Similar
provisions — opposed by many Republicans who think they would reward lawbreakers
over those who come to the country legally — helped doom previous attempts to
overhaul immigration in 2007 and 2010.
“This is in keeping with the principles the president has been espousing for
a long time, in keeping with bipartisan efforts in the past and with the effort
this president believes has to end in a law that he can sign,” Carney said.
He declined to say whether the White House objects to the proposal from the
Senate group that would tie citizenship to border security and
employment-verification measures. But he noted the administration’s focus on
border-security issues, which included deporting nearly 410,000 immigrants in
2012, an all-time high.
The borders “have never been better enforced than they are now,” Carney
Months of development
The White House’s immigration plans have been in the works for months. Senior
administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe
internal deliberations, said the White House has developed specific legislative
language spelling out Obama’s proposals. But they said they are not going to
make the language public at this point because the administration is encouraged
by the Senate group’s progress.
The president also is likely to support treating same-sex couples in which
one partner is an immigrant the same as married heterosexual couples — meaning
gay and lesbian immigrants in relationships with U.S. citizens could apply for
citizenship. Such a provision is almost certain to draw opposition from Catholic
and Baptist groups that have been supportive of comprehensive reform.
Immigration advocates said they expect Obama to be forceful in his public
remarks Tuesday and offer details that go beyond the blueprint on the White
House Web site. But there are risks for the president, who has accused
Republicans of opposing his initiatives to avoid giving him political
If Obama’s speech in Las Vegas, in a state with a growing number of Hispanic
voters, is too triumphant or too hectoring, he could risk alienating
Republicans whose support will be necessary, some lawmakers have said. Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Obama against delivering a
“divisive, partisan speech.”
Yet the White House also is mindful that Latino and Asian voters expect him
to follow through on an immigration overhaul after failing to achieve it in his
first term. Obama had promised to make immigration the key initiative of his
second term, but it took a back seat to gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Talks without White House
In the meantime, the Senate working group, which had originally targeted its
announcement for Friday, moved it up in advance of Obama’s speech. Senate aides
said the White House had minimal involvement in the bipartisan talks, preferring
a hands-off approach, in part because of failed bipartisan efforts on deficit
reduction and other issues.
One White House official said Obama spoke Sunday to Senate Democrats who
briefed him on the group’s progress, which came more quickly than the White
Despite the optimism of Monday’s announcement, senators on both sides
acknowledged that they must settle several thorny issues before drafting a bill.
They aim to introduce legislation by the end of March.
Democratic aides said the process could receive a boost if Obama champions a
framework that provides a smoother path to citizenship. The Senate outline would
appear more centrist by comparison, potentially making it easier for Republicans
to support. A progressive White House plan would also help prevent the Senate
effort from getting pushed much further to the right over time.
Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a
liberal think tank, called the parallel efforts “a healthy competition” between
the White House and the Senate.
“The inevitable question for the White House was: How does a legislative
initiative get underway?” Kelley said. “To some extent, the senators answered that, so it’s a nice coupling of