WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House and a bipartisan group of senators will launch an effort next week to jump-start negotiations to overhaul the immigration system, an issue that has languished in Washington for years.
Obama will begin his second-term immigration push during a trip Tuesday to Las Vegas. The Senate working group is also aiming to outline its proposals at about the same time, according to a Senate aide.
Even before those plans are formally unveiled, there is emerging consensus on several components, most notably the need for some kind of pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
The proposals will commence what is sure to be a contentious and emotional debate following 2012 election results that saw Latino voters turn out in large numbers to re-elect Obama – a signal to many Republican leaders that the party needs 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 was not authorized to discuss private deliberations and requested anonymity.
The Republican-controlled House would also need to pass the legislation before it went to the White House for the president’s signature.
Administration officials said Obama’s second-term immigration push will continue 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 unauthorized immigrants and improvements to the legal immigration system.
For Republicans, tackling immigration reform could be a way to broaden their appeal among Latino voters who are increasingly key to presidential elections.
In the Senate, lawmakers working on the effort include Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida, according to Senate aides.
Rubio is a relative newcomer to Senate negotiations on the issue, but he’s seen as a rising star in his party and a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
As a charismatic young Hispanic leader, his proposals on immigration have attracted wide notice in recent weeks. And as a conservative favorite, unlike McCain or Graham, his stamp of approval could be critical to drawing in other conservative lawmakers.
A Republican aide said that Rubio has made clear in his interactions with the group that he couldn’t sign on to proposals that deviated from the principles he himself has been laying out in recent media interviews, including border security first, a guest-worker program, more visas for high-tech workers and enforcement in the workplace.
As for the illegal immigrants already in the country, Rubio would have them pay a fine and back taxes, show they have not committed crimes, prove they’ve been in the country for some time and speak some English and apply for permanent residency. Ultimately, citizenship, too, could be in reach, but only after a process that doesn’t nudge aside immigrants already in line, and Rubio hasn’t provided details on how long it all might take.
The aide was not authorized to discuss private deliberations and requested anonymity in order to describe them.
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 GOP by coming off as a purely political move, since a White House-written bill would have little chance of actually passing.
The White House and Senate Democrats favor addressing immigration through one broad package of legislation, while some Republicans lawmakers prefer to tackle the issue through several separate bills.
Applicants waiting in Casa de Maryland in Langley Park, Md., before they can apply for the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals, as the U.S. started accepting applications to allow them to avoid deportation and get a work permit – but not a path to citizenship.×