Obama calls for immigration overhaul, says Ariz. bill 'misguided'
By Spencer S. Hsu and Anne E. Kornblut
The Washington Post, April 23, 2010
President Obama urged Congress on Friday to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, saying that inaction would lead to 'misguided efforts' and 'irresponsibility by others.'
The president also said an immigration bill currently on the Arizona governor's desk was 'misguided,' and said he has ordered his staff to 'closely monitor the situation' to make sure the measure will not violate people's civil liberties. The bill, already passed by the state House and Senate, would require authorities in Arizona to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.
Obama's remarks came in a Rose Garden naturalization ceremony for 24 foreign-born members of the U.S. military. The immigrants earned citizenship through their active-duty service.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid is also pushing for action on immigration on Capitol Hill. Reid this week vaulted the issue to the top of Congress's spring agenda, saying at a leadership meeting that the Senate could take up the immigration legislation before it considers an energy bill.
Reid (D-Nev.) has concluded that talks to advance a bipartisan immigration overhaul are stalled and party lines in the Senate are hardening, aides and lobbyists said Thursday. He told Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) that if they can't strike a deal within three weeks, the Democrats will bring their own bill forward, the aides and lobbyists said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has agreed to hold a House vote on immigration before the congressional elections in November if the Senate passes a bill, aides said.
The developments underscore election-year realities and appear to reflect in part a political calculation by some Democrats: even if an immigration bill fails, a debate on it could rally their base and mobilize Hispanic voters against GOP lawmakers in some districts. At the same time, the Arizona legislation has provided Democrats the opportunity to put Republicans on the defensive.
In recent weeks, key Democratic supporters including Latino groups, labor unions and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have stepped up pressure on Reid and Obama to tackle the immigration question, as Obama pledged to do in the 2008 presidential race and as Reid has committed to supporters in his Hispanic-heavy home state, where he faces an uphill re-election battle.
As pressure on Democrats has increased, Graham has cooled his support for the proposed bi-partisan framework, which that would strengthen border enforcement, crack down on employers who exploit illegal workers and establish a path for legalization or expulsion of roughly 12 million illegal immigrants. Instead, Graham has made clear in interviews that his priority is an energy and climate bill. He also has blasted the White House for failing to lay groundwork for a Schumer-Graham immigration package.
Immigration advocates said Graham's new stance decreases the odds that an immigration overhaul will pass the Senate. If Democrats choose to advance a bill with no Republican backing, however, they could attempt to shake loose support from nine or 10 Republican senators, using language voted on recently by the House and debated by the Senate in 2006 and 2007.
'They [Democrats] can fold their tent, say Lindsey Graham doesn't want to go ahead, or they can say, 'We're the ones in the majority, in the White House, let's lean into it, see if we can make it harder for them [Republicans] to say no,' ' said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an umbrella pro-immigration advocacy group.
If the Senate acts, supporters of immigration reform in the House say they are confident they could muster the votes to pass a bill this year. Already, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Thursday, 'we believe we have a little over 200 votes in the Democratic caucus for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to legalization.'
Obama has joined the fray, calling Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), George LeMieux (Fla.), Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) on Tuesday to solicit their support, his spokesman said.
'Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,' Obama said at the Rose Garden ceremony Friday. 'And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.'
White House officials said Obama had not reached out to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who is up for reelection, about whether she will sign the bill. Instead, he has asked the Justice Department to keep track of what happens with the bill and how it is enforced if it is enacted.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama was not taking other steps without knowing the Arizona bill's fate. But in his remarks, the president urged Congress to pre-empt similar state efforts elsewhere.
'As a nation, as a people, we can choose a different future — a future that keeps faith with our history, with our heritage, and with the hope that America has always inspired in the hearts of people all over the world,' he said.
With the immigration battle brewing in his home state, Sen. John McCain (R) — who also is facing a primary challenge this year — and fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) have threatened to filibuster any immigration legislation that does not secure borders first.
Republicans appear to welcome a fight on the issue. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that at a time when one in 10 Americans are unemployed, 'There is little enthusiasm in Congress to pass legislation that would legalize millions of unlawful residents to compete with out-of-work Americans for needed jobs.'
He added, 'One has to ask: are members raising the idea of comprehensive reform now because they believe the majority of Americans truly want it, or because it serves a specific political purpose in a tough election year?'
EDITORS NOTE: Arizonas SB1070 can be found online at: http://www.azleg.gov/DocumentsForBill.asp?Bill_Number=SB1070
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