WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, following up on one of his campaign pledges from last fall, will unveil his plans for a comprehensive immigration overhaul Tuesday during a trip to Las Vegas.
According to the White House, Obama will introduce a plan that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which many Republicans oppose and liken to amnesty. The trip marks the first step toward fulfilling his promise to press for an immigration overhaul at the beginning of his second term.
In a meeting Friday with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the president told lawmakers he planned to redouble efforts to work with Congress to fix a broken immigration system.
Talk of overhauling immigration has been building since Obama won re-election in November with large Latino support. Stung by the results, Republicans rushed to join Democrats back at the negotiating table. Immigration, however, remains a very emotional issue in many part of the country. Many Republicans oppose granting those who crossed the border illegally an opportunity to become citizens.
Perspectives do appear to be changing, though.
A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found that 53 percent of people surveyed said they wanted a plan that allowed illegal immigrants to become legal residents, with 43 percent saying the government should prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants.
At the White House briefing Friday, press secretary Jay Carney said Obama hoped that the "dynamic has changed" and was encouraged by Republicans' "willingness" to readdress the immigration issue.
He said the president would give details on what he called a blueprint of proposals that he's been discussing over the past year. Those measures include securing the border, beefing up work-site enforcement and establishing a temporary worker program for lower-skilled, non-seasonal, non-agricultural workers.
"This is not a partisan or ideological pursuit," Carney said. "It's the right thing to do for our economy, and he looks forward to speaking about it next week and to working with Republicans and Democrats to get it done."
Obama touched on immigration in his inaugural address Monday. He's expected to lay out his plans further in his State of the Union address Feb. 12.
As the president is pushing his proposals, a bipartisan group of senators has been working behind closed doors on a compromise. One Senate aide said a proposal might be released as early as next week. The group has had several meetings with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and his staff, according to a Republican Senate aide with knowledge of the conversations, who requested anonymity to speak more freely about the issue.
Rubio suggested in interviews this winter introducing legislation in pieces, which might make change easier to get through Congress. Rubio's plan would include a permanent-residency provision for many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country, possibly leading to citizenship after some years.
Pressure to find a solution also has come on the right from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Baptist Convention, leading to greater optimism that a bipartisan agreement can be reached.
"Progress on immigration reform this year is within Washington's grasp," said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Friday, Republican former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recalled that two previous presidents - George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan - had supported comprehensive immigration restructuring. He cited employers' needs for immigrants not only in high-tech industries but in agriculture too, especially in states such as California.
"Republicans need to be for what is good for the economy, and immigration reform is needed," Barbour says in the interview, which was scheduled to air Friday night.
Some advocates have been concerned that the gun control debate might overshadow immigration talks, but Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who was in the caucus meeting with the president, said Obama had reiterated that immigration would be his top legislative priority.
"The president is the quarterback and he will direct the team, call the play and be pivotal if we succeed," Gutierrez said in a statement. "I am very optimistic based on conversations with Republicans in the House and Senate that we will do more than just talk about the immigration issue this year."
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