WASHINGTON, January 30 (RIA Novosti) US President Barack Obama outlined an ambitious vision Tuesday for comprehensive immigration reform, arguing the United States could afford to wait no longer to fix a "broken" system and serving notice his administration would push hard to make this happen soon.
Speaking in Las Vegas, Nevada, a state whose fast-growing immigrant Hispanic population helped ensure his second-term election victory, Obama said reform should include strengthening US border security but insisted it must also give immigrants who entered the country illegally a path to US citizenship.
“The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said in a speech which was broadcast live on cable news television networks. “Now is the time,” he stressed, adding: “Most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that has been broken for too long.”
Obama spelled out three principles that he said should be at the core of debate on immigration reform:
· Enforcement: This includes strengthening US border security, creating a system permitting businesses to verify the employment status of workers and increasing penalties on employers who knowingly hire undocumented people;
· Citizenship: Resolving the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States and establishing clear procedures (including paying a fine, learning English, waiting in line) for them to eventually acquire US citizenship if they want it;
· Incentives: Easing procedures that allow new US citizens to bring foreign family members to the United States to live with them and making it easier for foreign students to remain in the United States and set up businesses here following completion of their education.
Obama, inaugurated for his second term in office eight days ago, has moved quickly to seize the political initiative and has made clear that broad reform of US immigration legislation will be among the top domestic policy priorities for his administration.
His opponents in the Republican Party, still reeling from the sound electoral defeat of their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, are scrambling for a way to win back flagging support for their party among minority groups, notably Hispanic immigrants who voted overwhelmingly for Obama, a Democrat.
On Monday, a group of influential senators from both parties, including relentless Obama adversary Republican Senator John McCain, announced a blueprint of their own for sweeping immigration reform – a plan that Obama welcomed and which he said closely resembled many of his own ideas.
And quoting two unnamed congressional sources, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that a “secretive” group of members of the House of Representatives from both parties was also racing to craft its own immigration reform plan ahead of Obama’s annual State of the Union address on Feb. 12.
Any deep and effective reform of US immigration laws will demand action from the Congress. And while Obama welcomed the early signs of bipartisan cooperation on the issue in an otherwise gridlocked legislature, he also made clear he was ready to force the issue if disagreements could not be overcome.
“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 warned.
In his speech, the US president invoked a number of world-leading American high-technology companies that were started by immigrants to the United States and insisted immigration reform was needed above all for economic reasons.
“Immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo!,” Obama said. “They created entire new industries that, in turn, created new jobs and new prosperity for our citizens. In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants.”
Obama, whose father was from Kenya and who spent part of his childhood living in Indonesia, also recalled that the United States had always been a country of immigrants.
“They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies,” he said. “But they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are; who built this country hand by hand, brick by brick.”