Obama, Republicans look to tackle immigration

Last updated 08:36 26/01/2013

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The White House and a bipartisan group of senators will launch separate efforts next week to jumpstart negotiations to overhaul the immigration system, an issue that has languished in Washington for years.

Obama will start his second-term immigration push during a trip to Las Vegas on Tuesday. The Senate working group is aiming to outline its proposals at about the same time, according to a Senate aide.

There is emerging consensus on several key components, notably the need for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The White House and Senate Democrats favor addressing immigration through a broad package of legislation, while some Republicans lawmakers prefer to tackle the issue through several separate bills.

The proposals will mark the start of what's sure to be a contentious and emotional campaign in the wake of 2012 election results that saw Latino voters turn out in large numbers to re-elect Obama - a signal to some Republican leaders that the party needed to change its posture on immigration.

The aim of the Senate group is to draft an immigration bill by March and pass legislation in the Senate by August, said the aide, who requested anonymity in order to discuss private deliberations. The Republican-controlled House would also need to pass the legislation before it went to the White House for the president's signature.

For Obama, a successful push on immigration reform would be a promise kept to the Latino community after he disappointed many by failing to act on the issue in his first term, and it could be central to his legacy. The president met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House Friday to discuss his upcoming proposals.

Obama has pledged to tackle immigration reform during his second term.

"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," the president said in his second inaugural speech this week.

Administration officials say Obama's immigration push will be a continuation of the principles he outlined during his first four years in office. The basis for the president's plan is expected to be his 2011 immigration reform "blueprint," which calls for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increased border security, mandatory penalties for businesses that employ unauthorised immigrants and improvements to the legal immigration system.

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For Republicans, tackling immigration reform could be a way to broaden their appeal among Latino voters who are increasingly key to presidential elections. Latino voters accounted for 10 percent of the electorate in November, and 71 percent backed Obama over the 27 percent who voted for Romney.

Details of the Senate proposals remain unclear, but the principles are expected to address a process toward legalising the status of unauthorised immigrants already in the country; border security; verification measures for employers hiring workers and ways for more temporary workers to be admitted into the country.

Several of the senators negotiating the immigration principles are veterans of the comprehensive immigration reform effort under then-President George W. Bush. That process collapsed in 2007 when it came up well-short of the needed votes in the Senate.

Some Republicans still lament that result as a missed opportunity for the party that could have set it on a different path to reach more Latino voters.

An open question for the Senate group has been whether Obama would release an actual bill or just his own principles. Republicans in the group tend to believe that a bill handed down by the White House could seriously complicate the process, spooking the Republicans by coming off as a purely political move, since a White House-written bill would have little chance of actually passing.

- AP

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