(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama met with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Thursday to try to work out a comprehensive immigration reform package, which would include a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal aliens--a proposal that has failed twice before in Congress.
"My administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform," President Obama said yesterday at his meeting with the bipartisan group of legislators.
"What's also been acknowledged is that the 12 million or so undocumented workers are here--who are not paying taxes in the ways that we'd like them to be paying taxes, who are living in the shadows, that that is a group that we have to deal with in a practical, common-sense way," said Obama. "And I think the American people are ready for us to do so."
New legislation has not been drafted, but past efforts in 2005 and 2007 centered on a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal aliens, allowing them to go through a process to become legal. Opponents of this idea say such a law amounts to “amnesty.”
The growing number of illegal aliens has been cited by state and local governments as a major strain on health care costs, crime and overcrowded schools.
“After all the overheated rhetoric and occasional demagoguery from all sides, we have got the responsible set of leaders interested in getting something done,” Obama said Thursday while surrounded by several members of Congress at a meeting table.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking outside the White House, told reporters that immigration reform could be now or never.
“We have one more chance to do this,” Graham said. “If we fail this time, no politician will take this up for a generation. We need to convince the public that we will find a reasonable solution to this problem. The 12 million are not going away.”
But what lawmakers should address is how such a reform will affect the already high unemployment rate for U.S. citizens and how many relatives living outside the United States now would be eligible to enter the country, said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
Stein also said that the Obama administration has curtailed worksite enforcement against illegal labor and scaled back on cooperation with state and local governments.
“The only thing comprehensive about the so-called comprehensive immigration reform would be the amnesty for people who have violated our laws,” Stein said in a statement. “While millions of illegal aliens would be rewarded, struggling American workers and overburdened taxpayers would pay a heavy price were Congress and the administration to repeat the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is the leading sponsor of the reform legislation during this session of Congress, after previous failed attempts with a bipartisan bill from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
In addition to the “pathway to citizenship” idea, Schumer said basic principles must include an employment verification system, increased border patrol, and registration requirements for committing to legal status or face the risk of deportation, Schumer said Wednesday, speaking at a Migration Policy Institute conference at Georgetown University.
“When the president asks me whether we can pass comprehensive immigration reform this Congress, I will smile and say, ‘Mr. President, yes we can,’” Schumer said. “All the fundamental building blocks are in place to pass comprehensive immigration reform this session and, even possibly later this year.”
Regarding immediate steps, Obama said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would be working with congressional leaders to discuss ways to secure the border. He also said that the U.S. Center for Immigration Services will speed up citizenship petitions, and the legalization process would be made more efficient.
At the White House, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said verification cards for employed immigrants would be of utmost importance in the legislation.
“We need to make clear to the American public that we will end illegal immigration once and for all and it will never rear its ugly head again,” Gutierrez said. “An American born citizen will never be denied opportunities at the expense of a foreigner.”
A temporary worker program would also be an essential element of the legislation, said Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), speaking outside the White House after meeting with the president.
“A temporary worker program is very workable as is a worker-verification program,” Kyl said. “We have got to reconstitute this fragile coalition to pass this.”
President Obama specifically applauded Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) as Republicans who had done the "right thing" and that he can work with on comprehensive immigration reform.
"I want to especially commend John McCain, who's with me today, because along with folks like Lindsey Graham, he has already paid a significant political cost for doing the right thing.