WASHINGTON — The White House and a bipartisan group of senators will launch an effort next week to jump-start negotiations to overhaul the immigration system, an issue that has languished in Washington for years.
Obama will begin his second-term immigration push during a trip Tuesday to Las Vegas. The Senate working group is also aiming to outline its proposals at about the same time, according to a Senate aide.
Even before those plans are formally unveiled, there is emerging consensus on several components, most notably the need for some kind of pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
The proposals will commence what is sure to be a contentious and emotional debate following 2012 election results that saw Latino voters turn out in large numbers to re-elect Obama — a signal to many Republican leaders that the party needs to change its posture on immigration.
The aim of the Senate group is to draft an immigration bill by March and pass legislation in the Senate by August, said the aide, who was not authorized to discuss private deliberations and requested anonymity. The Republican-controlled House would also need to pass the legislation before it went to the White House for the president's signature.
For Obama, a successful push on immigration reform would be a promise kept to the Latino community after he disappointed many by failing to act on the issue in his first term, and it could be central to his legacy. The president met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House Friday to discuss his upcoming proposals.
Following the meeting, lawmakers emphasized the need to act quickly.
"The time to act on comprehensive immigration reform is now," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. "I remain hopeful that my colleagues in Congress can do the right thing and work together to produce legislation that secures our borders, reunites broken families and humanely treats the more than 11 million individuals who want nothing more than (to) achieve the American dream."
Obama pledged to make overhauling the system a top second-term priority.
"I think we have talked about it long enough," Obama said during an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" in December. "We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That's something we should get done."
Administration officials say Obama's second-term immigration push will continue the principles he outlined during his first four years in office. The basis for the president's plan is expected to be his 2011 immigration reform "blueprint," which calls for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increased border security, mandatory penalties for businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants and improvements to the legal immigration system.
"What he hopes is that that dynamic has changed," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of Obama. "And there are certainly indications now that what was once a bipartisan effort to push forward with comprehensive immigration reform will again be a bipartisan effort to do so."
For Republicans, tackling immigration reform could be a way to broaden their appeal among Latino voters who are increasingly key to presidential elections. Latino voters accounted for 10 percent of the electorate in November, and 71 percent backed Obama over the 27 percent who voted for Romney.
In the Senate, lawmakers working on the effort include Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida, according to Senate aides.
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