In his State of the Union address last week President Barack Obama called on Congressional leadership to send him a comprehensive immigration reform bill “in the next few months,” upping the pressure on Senate and House members to find a compromise. He promised to sign the bill as soon as it arrived at his desk.
This promise reflects a considerable effort during the first few weeks of Obama’s second term to find common ground on the subject of immigration reform. Earlier, Obama explored the subject at a speech given in Las Vegas. He implored Congress to act in a timely manner, but did not set a precise timeframe. In the absence of any legislation from Congress, the President said he’d send his own for a vote.
While there was much less emphasis on immigration reform in his Sate of the Union speech, he still touched upon border security, legal immigration reform, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the country.
The president declared that “real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship — a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.”
He also admitted that the system is broken when it comes to the immigration of skilled professionals. “Real reform,” he said, “means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.”
Clearly, the sticking point of reform is going to be whether it should include provisions to allow the undocumented to become U.S. citizens. Democrats and Republicans disagree on that point, but a bipartisan group in the Senate dubbed the “gang of eight” released their own proposal last month for reform that included a pathway that would only be triggered after certain border security goals were met. This provision will likely delay the passage of the bill considerably as both parties iron out their differences.
The American people broadly support a pathway to citizenship. See our previous post on the most recent national poll showing support for a pathway to citizenship from 70% of Americans.
The President’s State of the Union comments on immigration were quite different from those he made in 2011 and 2012, where he did not offer any specifics on how to achieve reform. Now bringing the issue to the forefront of his political agenda, he focused on the need to find compromise.
“Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants,” he said. “And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) praised President Barack Obama’s message on reform. “I thought on comprehensive immigration reform, I thought his words were measured,” Ryan said in an interview with CNN after the State of the Union address. “I think the tone and the words he took were productive on that front,” Ryan said, adding that immigration is “an area where we have a good chance of getting something done.”


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