One of President Barack Obama’s top advisers outlined the immigration reforms the president would like to see in a Tuesday conference call with reporters.
Cecilia Mu?oz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said Obama “welcomes” the current debate on what is one of his biggest legislative priorities this term.
Obama told supporters in Nevada Tuesday he wants to give roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country a path to citizenship while also ensuring enforcement will remain strong.
Mu?oz described the path to citizenship as one that is “not easy or quick, but which is fair” and comes after going through a background check, learning English, paying back taxes and immigration policies.
It would also put applicants at the “back of the line” of legal immigrants who have already applied for permanent residency, the step before citizenship. Like all permanent residents, they could then apply for citizenship after five years.
“It should be clear from the outset that citizenship is part of this process [in which] after a period of time and after fulfilling all these qualifications and getting to the back of the line, these folks would be eligible for a permanent residency.”
“Dreamers,” children whose parents brought them to the U.S., would get an “expedited pass” to citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military for two years, she said.
Obama also seeks to further enforce immigration laws, calling for more border security as well as what Mu?oz described as a “reliable mechanism” to check whether employers were hiring undocumented workers.
He also wants to reduce the backlog in the legal immigration process so students from other countries stay in the U.S. instead of taking their talents back home or to another country.
“It makes no sense for us to be training the best of the brightest across the world, only to deny them the ability to … create jobs here in the U.S.,” Mu?oz said.
A bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in the Senate released a framework for their reforms last Monday, which also gives a path to citizenship. That path, however, is “contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays,” the framework said.
Mu?oz said the framework “by and large reflects” Obama’s vision and he hopes the Senate passes it. If not, she added, he “reserves the right” to ask the Senate to vote on his own legislation.
The deferred action program Obama announced in the summer, which gave a renewable two-year non-deportable status to dreamers, does not give legal status, Mu?oz said, so those who applied for that program would go through this new process.
Enrique Figueroa, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor and director of the Roberto Hernandez Center at the university, said it is likely something will pass, even in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“I think that politically, economically, socially and morally, people have come to a conclusion that something has to be done,” Figueroa said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of debate on the details of it, but I think we’ll have a bill passed by both houses.”