U.S. President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after delivering remarks on immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, January 29, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)
President Obama expressed support for immigration reform proposals put forth by a bipartisan group of Senators, but he also unveiled his own plan and warned if Congress gridlocked on the issue, he would step in and push his own, more progressive proposals.
What are the key differences between the two plans for immigration reform?
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Foremost among the proposals of the senators is a contentious path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. However, that proposal is contingent upon increased border security and tracking of immigrants.
Similar measures were proposed under the Bush administration, but they were shot down by Republicans opposed to immigration, on the basis of the potential for citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.
The plan also calls for stringent employment verification systems, to ensure no undocumented immigrants are able to work in the United States without first registering with the government.
Still, the plan does recognize that the current immigration system is broken. Many immigrants, even those who come to the United States legally, often to attend universities, are forced out by the draconian procedures required to obtain green cards, work visas and eventually citizenship, and it offers some preferential treatment to well-educated immigrants who wish to remain in the country.
That doesn't do much to help the majority of undocumented immigrants, however.
Obama's plan is actually similar to the Senate plan. He also calls for a path to citizenship, but it is not contingent upon border enforcement. Obama clarifies that he is not against increased border security and does not want to reduce security at the borders, but his plan does not tie the two proposals together like the Senate plan.
Aside from that, Obama's citizenship proposal is similar to the senators'. Undocumented immigrants will need to register with the government, pay back taxes, and then wait for the backlog of legal immigrants to be cleared before they will be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship.
In the meantime, they will have "provisional legacy" status.
In addition, Obama wants to expedite the process for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors, in a proposal modeled after the his deportation deferment program. Young immigrants would be eligible for the program if they attended college or served two years in the military.
Obama also wants to expedite family reunions, by speeding up the process for immigrants who are family members of current U.S. residents or citizens.
And, in a move sure to cause consternation among conservatives, Obama wants same-sex couple to be eligible for family status.
Whether any of these proposals will make it out of Congress remains to be seen, but there is unprecedented bipartisan support for immigration reform, particularly after Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in last year's presidential election. Republicans are beginning to realize they need Latino votes if they want to take back the White House in 2016.