The Obama administration is aiming to overhaul immigration in its second term.
Senior administration officials and lawmakers report that the president hopes to push for a single bill to provide a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants. Senate Democrats will draft changes and are said to be already working on a bill. If Obama hopes to pass legislation on the matter, though, he will likely have to do so early in his second term to increase the likelihood of both parties cooperating, said Nicolas Eilbaum, a lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program who teaches a class on Mexican migration to the north.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” Obama said in his inaugural address Monday.
Successful immigration reform will have to address two key concerns, Eilbaum noted—what to do with illegal immigrants already in the country, and policy changes to ensure that the current controversy does not arise again. He added that he was hopeful for new legislation to pass despite partisan conflicts that have impeded reform in the past.
Negotiations for reform failed during Obama’s first term due to unresolved disagreements between both parties.
Senators in a bipartisan group are already formulating a bill that could be introduced as early as March. According to administration officials, the president’s plan will focus on several issues, including establishing standards for legal status verification, approving more visas and improving guest worker programs.
Despite the president’s promises for reform, substantive changes to immigration policies remains unlikely, political science professor Michael Munger wrote in an email Tuesday.
“President Obama has established a pattern—announce his luke-warm support for a program, fail to offer any real effort to get it passed and then blame Congress for not doing anything,” Munger said.
But the setbacks may benefit the Democratic Party, which faults their Republican compatriots for obstructing negotiations, Munger said.
Although talks about reform have begun in the Senate, it remains uncertain whether House Republicans will agree to the proposed legislation. A request from Republicans to divide the proposal into smaller components that would be better received by legislators wary of comprehensive reform was denied.
Democrats hope to work with Republicans, but the Obama administration has explicitly stated that they will not agree to any measures that would prevent a path to citizenship.
Freshman Arvind Viswanathan said creating a path to citizenship should be a focus of Congress.
“Many young undocumented immigrants were born in the United States and have grown up surrounded by English and American culture,” he said. “It would be unfair to deport them.”
Providing a path to citizenship will also be important if Democrats hope to boost their popularity among Latino voters, Eilbaum noted. He added that Democrats have an edge with Latino voters that neither party had before, making it increasingly important for them to maintain that support.
“During the Bush years, we had a Republican pushing for immigration reform, and yet the Latino vote was split,” Eilbaum said. “If Democrats fail to deliver and nothing really happens, I think sooner or later they’re going to pay a price.”