President Obama on Tuesday will ask American workers, employers, lawmakers, and interest groups to help enact a new immigration system this year that would grant undocumented immigrants an earned path to U.S. citizenship.
The kickoff of Obama’s public campaign for reform, which the president postponed until his second term, will take place in Las Vegas a day after a key, bipartisan group of senators launched a push for immigration changes that Obama hopes can lead to action in the House.
A bipartisan group of House members may follow suit within weeks of Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address.
Administration officials, speaking to reporters Monday, pronounced the president pleased with early momentum in Congress. They asserted that the scheduling of Obama’s speech this week goosed some lawmakers into unveiling their efforts sooner than planned.
Obama wants to study the fine print of legislation once it is written, but administration officials were quick to say the president objects to linking an earned pathway to citizenship to enforcement or border security triggers, a contingency concept included in the bipartisan “principles” outlined Monday by pro-reform senators who have been dubbed the “immigration eight.” Immigration enforcement goals have already been met by the administration, the officials said, and any new triggers or thresholds set by law would create unnecessary obstacles to those seeking legal status.
They promised more specificity in Obama’s Tuesday speech. They were pointedly vague about the choice of Nevada as backdrop for the start of the campaign, but the White House said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be in his home state to attend.
One source said Nevada is an example of how rapidly changing demographics and American politics have converged to threaten Republicans as a viable national party in future elections.
(Las Vegas was also an easy destination for those coming to the event from both coasts and the Midwest, one source added. Among those in attendance will be AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; autoworkers and other representatives from organized labor; members of the Latino, Asian and Irish immigrant communities; attendees from evangelical and religious groups; local and state government officials; and perhaps business representatives.)
“We agree with the president that this is a critical issue,” said Jeff Hauser, spokesman for the AFL-CIO. “This is a situation of a completely shared point of view.”
Union representatives said they will hold a news conference shortly after Obama’s speech.
Obama is keeping in his back pocket a White House draft of an immigration reform measure, but administration officials said the president will cede the bill-writing to lawmakers for now, if it will help get the results he’s seeking. Aides pointed to Obama’s immigration reform principles, written as a “blueprint,” posted on the White House website.
Obama’s primary role going forward will be as a cheerleader urging the public to pressure their members of Congress to enact reforms. The president will continue to travel and speak on the issue, and tap all the tools that make up the modern day bully pulpit, including social media and e-mail.
In Nevada, he is expected to call for a comprehensive approach to reform -- meaning a single bill rather than individual measures that might be cherry-picked by lawmakers who back employer enforcement provisions or tougher border security, but not a clear pathway to citizenship because they believe it rewards lawbreakers and is tantamount to amnesty.
Comprehensive legislation generally is thought to mean one measure establishing new provisions for workplace enforcement, border security, legalization and citizenship, visa allowances for skilled immigrants, and programs for temporary work.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a statement Monday, reminded the White House that GOP senators want to consider immigration under “regular order,” meaning within each of the committees with jurisdiction, and through an amendment process once a measure (or measures) get to the Senate floor. McConnell’s statement underscored the fact that past reform efforts foundered along these complex routes through Congress.
McConnell warned Obama the GOP would not warm to a presidential speech that sought to divide Republicans, who are still reeling after 71 percent of Latino voters backed the president for re-election over Mitt Romney. “I hope he will take a bipartisan approach rather than delivering another divisive partisan speech,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Last September, during a television interview with Univision, Obama explained the differences between his approach and that of Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.
“The candidate sitting here with you today is committed to comprehensive immigration reform; is committed to the 'DREAM Act’ [for children born in America to undocumented immigrants], has taken administrative actions to prevent young people from being deported,” he said.
“And that stands in contrast with the other candidate, who has said he would veto the 'DREAM Act,’ that he is uncertain about what his plan for immigration reform would be, and [who] considers the Arizona law a model for the nation, and has suggested that the main solution for immigration is self-deportation.”
With an improving economy and support from both business and the AFL-CIO, the White House plans to argue that immigration reform will expand economic growth, workers’ wages and the number of U.S. citizens paying into the Treasury and into the Social Security and Medicare systems. As America’s worker population ages and draws on entitlement benefits, the country is looking for younger workers to pay into the coffers. With 11 million undocumented workers already in the country, there is an economic argument for making them legal and offering the opportunity for citizenship, administration officials assert.
The Congressional Budget Office, academic analysts, and think tanks -- including CATO and the Center for American Progress -- have projected benefits to the economy resulting from an earned pathway to citizenship, countering public fears of lost jobs and lower wages. Some economists expect an additional 1 percent in growth and a $2.2 billion reduction in federal deficits over 10 years with enactment of comprehensive reforms, administration officials said Monday.
One Democratic source said immigration reform advocates are working toward House and Senate committee hearings and markup by March; Senate floor action by April or May; House floor action before Memorial Day; and Obama’s signature on a compromise measure before the August congressional recess.
Asked about a White House legislative calendar for enactment of reforms while the president also works to curb gun violence and achieve budgetary compromises with Republicans, administration officials said they could not put a timeline on it.