Undocumented immigrant Katherine Taberes watches Obama's immigration speech from New York. (Mario Tama/Getty I …
President Barack Obama unveiled his vision for immigration reform in a speech on Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas, Nev., telling Congress that he will send them his own bill and call for a vote if they don't move fast.
"If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away," Obama said to applause from students at Del Sol High School.
"It looks like there's a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that's very encouraging," Obama said, mentioning a blueprint put forward by a bipartisan group of eight senators on Monday. "But this time action must follow."
Obama's speech was the latest move in a chess match between the White House and some Republicans in Congress to craft an outline for reform that can both be enacted into law while meeting the expectataions of the growing population of Hispanic voters who now overwhelmingly favor Democrats.
Some Republicans want to support immigration reform in part to combat the party's demographic challenges, but the more involved the president is with the bill, the politically riskier it becomes to support it.
In his speech, Obama laid out "markers" for reform, saying any comprehensive immigration bill must give most of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants a chance to earn their citizenship gradually if they pay a fine, learn English and pass a background check. Immigrants would also have to get to "the back of the line," which means people who have already applied for green cards would have their applications processed first.
The president's bill would also include an employment verification system, more border security and a revamping of the legal immigration system to provide more visas for top graduates of U.S. universities and to reduce lengthy wait times for visas for relatives of U.S. citizens.
The president mentioned the blueprint for reform laid out by senators including rising Republican star Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona, Obama's 2008 GOP presidential rival.
The principles of that outline "are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years," Obama said.
The senators pre-empted Obama's speech by a day to release a blueprint that differs from Obama's earlier immigration proposal in some respects.
Both Obama and the senators agree that the nation's illegal immigrants should be given a chance to legalize and eventually become citizens if they meet certain conditions, but the senators' bill includes a spate of border security requirements that must go into effect before the immigrants are eligible for green cards. Rubio said on Tuesday that he will not sign onto a bill that does not include these border enforcement triggers.
Another potential difference between the plans is that the president believes same-sex partners should be able to sponsor their immigrant husband or wife for citizenship in the same way heterosexual married couples can do now. The Senate proposal does not mention same-sex couples.
Obama said he recognized that immigration is an issue that inflames "passions," but he called on Americans to remember that they belong to a nation of immigrants.
"It's easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of 'us' versus 'them,'" Obama said. "When that happens a lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them. ... Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from some place else. Somebody brought you."
Welcoming immigrants has made the country stronger, he said. "That's how we will ensure this century is the same as the last, an American century, welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, is willing to work hard for it, is willing to pledge allegiance to our flag."
Leaders in the Republican-controlled House have not yet released a significant blueprint or proposal for immigration reform. In response to the speech, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner urged the president to keep his distance while Congress undergoes what will likely be a lengthy legislative process to reach a final bill addressing immigration reform.
“There are a lot of ideas about how best to fix our broken immigration system. Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the president is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck in a statement.
McCain said in a statement after Obama's speech that despite the "differences" in their approaches, he is "cautiously optimistic" that a bill will go forward.
Immigrant groups and labor organizations are rallying behind the new push for reform. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Yahoo News on Tuesday that organized labor is “entirely behind” comprehensive immigration reform and will mount a “full-fledged” campaign to help drive it through Congress.
—Olivier Knox, Rachel Rose Hartman and Chris Moody contributed to this report.
- Politics & Government
- Immigration Issues
- President Barack Obama
- immigration reform