New prospects in 2014 for an immigration overhaul
President Barack Obama begins 2014 clinging to the hope of winning a lasting legislative achievement: an overhaul of immigration laws.
In recent weeks, both Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have sent signals that raised expectations among overhaul supporters that 2014 could still yield the first comprehensive change in immigration laws in nearly three decades. If successful, it would fulfill an Obama promise many Latinos say is long overdue.
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addressed border security, provided enforcement measures and offered a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. House leaders, pressed by tea party conservatives, demanded a more limited and piecemeal approach.
Obama has repeatedly argued that final immigration legislation must contain a path toward citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally. Opponents argue citizenship rewards lawbreakers, and many Republicans are loath to support any measure granting citizenship no matter how difficult and lengthy that path may be.
But some advocates of reform are beginning to rally around an idea to grant immigrants legal status in the U.S. and leave the question of citizenship out of the legislation. In other words, they can work, but not vote.
While strong majorities of Hispanics continue to back a pathway to citizenship, a Pew Research Center poll last month found that being able to live and work in the U.S. legally without the threat of deportation was more important to Latinos by 55 percent to 35 percent.
Still, that the immigration argument is now over legalization versus citizenship is remarkable enough. A 2005 Republican House immigration bill, instead of legalizing immigrants, would have made them felons if they were not authorized to be in the U.S.
Obama, whose support among Latinos has dropped from nearly 80 percent to 55 percent, has been under increasing pressure to use his executive powers to limit deportations. Obama’s Homeland Security Department has deported 1.9 million people during the president’s nearly five years in office, a number that is predominantly felons, national security risks, serious immigration offenders and recent border crossers. Of the 368,644 immigrants removed last year, 2 out of 3 were at or near the U.S. border.
“As long as we have a failure to achieve immigration reform, combined with the record-breaking level of deportations, there will continue to be great dissatisfaction in the Latino community with the president,” said Janet Murguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, a leading Latino advocacy group.
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