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Inside Story Americas

US immigration reform: A path to citizenship

Can the right of the Republican Party be persuaded to back a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system?
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2013 12:43

In a politically fractured town like Washington DC, one would think that a plan supported by President Barack Obama and sworn Republican political enemies, including John McCain and Marco Rubio, would be sure to succeed.

But there is no guarantee about whether the right of the Republican Party will be persuaded to back immigration reform.

Immigration, and the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US, has proved to be one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

"There is a study just produced by a scholar at the University of California that showed that President Obama has deported more people - families, children - than all presidents of the United States, from George Washington up to Bill Clinton in 1996; not than each one of them, but [more] than all of them combined."

- Roberto Lovato, an immigration rights activist

Previous attempts to reform the system have failed amid rancour in Washington, but this week there is new hope that comprehensive reform could be passed by the end of the year.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled far-reaching legislation that could provide a path to citizenship.

Those arguing for reform were given hope by the presence of Republican Senior Senator John McCain and also Marco Rubio, an early favourite for the Republican presidential nod in 2016.

The senators' plan emphasises four key aspects: security along the US southern border; employer-compliance with immigration laws; provisions for farm workers and highly-educated engineers; and a "pathway to citizenship" - which senators insist does not amount to a path to amnesty. 

Undocumented US residents who want to continue working will have to register with the government and pay a fine.

This will effectively force them to the "back of the line" while they apply for permanent status.

"Democrats are in a win-win situation here, if they get immigration reform through then President Obama has delivered on his promises of comprehensive reform and he gets a win. If they don't get it through they will blame a native establishment within the Republican Party and that will be a win for them. So Democrats win either way. And Republicans lose both ways."

- Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post

But while they are waiting, they can work legally and do not face deportation, as long as they steer clear of criminal activity.

But there are obstacles: although Obama has come out in favour of the thrust of the plan, the key battles are to come when the bill comes up for debate in Congress.

In particular, more right-leaning Republican congressmen are wary of alienating many Republican voters who are hostile to reform, arguing it amounts to amnesty.

They seem to pay little heed to the arguments of Republican grandees who argue that the party needs to win Latino support to stand any chance of regaining the White House.

So, can the right of the Republican Party be persuaded to back comprehensive immigration reform?

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas with presenter Kimberly Halkett is joined by guests: Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post; Roberto Lovato, a co-founder of Presente.org, an online Latino advocacy organisation; and Michael Graham, a Conservative political commentator and talk radio host.


US IMMIGRATION LAW:

  • President Barack Obama discussed immigration reform in Nevada on Tuesday 
  • Obama: Time for "common-sense comprehensive immigration reform" 
  • Obama said he backs proposals offered by "gang of 8" senators
  • Immigration 'compromise' backed by Republican and Democrat senators  
  • Obama described his plan as "earned citizenship" 
  • Senators' plan calls for stronger border control 
  • Senators' plan calls for improved monitoring of visitors 
  • Senators' plan calls for crackdown on hiring of undocumented workers 
  • Senators say legislation could pass in late spring, early summer
  • Last major immigration reform laws passed in the US in 1986.
  • That law made it illegal to hire workers without documentation.
  • Obama offered his own immigration reform plan in May 2011 
  • Latino critics: Obama failed to fulfill immigration-reform promises 
  • 2012 exit polls showed that Latino voters supported Obama over Romney 

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