President Obama speaks on May 10, 2011, about immigration reform in El Paso. / LM Otero, AP
The push to overhaul the nation's immigration laws is officially underway.
President Obama met with Hispanic members of Congress at the White House on Friday and is planning a speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday to "redouble the administration's efforts to work with Congress to fix the broken immigration system this year," according to a White House statement.
Obama insisted that he would lead on the issue, and emphasized that any changes to the nation's immigration laws would include an "earned pathway to citizenship" for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants. Republicans have insisted that the country fully secure the borders and enact tight restrictions on businesses from hiring illegal immigrants before granting any new rights to people illegally living in the country.
After Friday's meeting, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus - all Democrats - said they were enthusiastic by the president's commitment to moving on an immigration bill.
"The president is the quarterback and he will direct the team, call the play and be pivotal if we succeed," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the House members who will be shepherding the bill through Congress.
Both Republicans and Democrats have discussed the need to tackle immigration this term, but there are many disagreements over what it will look like and how to proceed.
Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have insisted that they approach it piece by piece. A bipartisan group of senators plan on introducing a bill on Tuesday focused on increasing the number of visas for high-skilled immigrants with degrees in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - according to The Hill.
Meanwhile, many Democrats support a "comprehensive" bill that would address all the issues at once. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed Senate Bill No. 1 as the "Immigration Reform that Works for America's Future Act," a symbolic, but telling indication of how important the issue will be in the new Congress. Another bipartisan group of senators is almost ready to unveil their own comprehensive immigration plan, according to The Washington Post.
Whatever the approach, members feel the stars are finally aligned to tackle an issue that eluded George W. Bush during his White House years and Obama during his first term in office.
"Immigration reform is not a matter of 'if' but 'when,'" said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "After today's meeting, it's clear that President Obama is determined to fix our long broken immigration system."
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