Senators draft plan to rework U.S. immigration policy

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010; 8:58 PM

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) announced the building blocks Thursday for a new push in Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, outlining a plan to require U.S. citizens and legal immigrants to obtain a new high-tech Social Security card tied to their fingerprints or other biometric identifiers and to create a system to bring in temporary workers as the U.S. economy demands.

The immigration "blueprint," outlined in an opinion column posted on The Washington Post's Web site, drew an immediate vow of support from President Obama, who urged Congress "to act at the earliest possible opportunity."

"I . . . pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. Obama congratulated Schumer and Graham on what he called "a promising, bipartisan framework which can and should be the basis for moving forward."

In the editorial, Graham and Schumer shied away from details, and did not say when they would produce a bill.

Advocates set an April deadline, but that would require additional Republican support. Schumer and Graham asked Obama at a Tuesday meeting to help in coming days, according to a source familiar with talks.

Opponents noted that Congress failed in 2006 and 2007 to pass similar legislation backed by President George W. Bush that proposed tougher enforcement at the border and at U.S. workplaces, a program to bring in guest workers for U.S. employers, and a path to gain legal status for many of the estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

Congressional supporters, whose ideas track those proposals, have labored under a self-imposed deadline, hoping to advance a bill to the Senate floor before Memorial Day. Lawmakers do not want to hold a contentious debate over immigration policies close to fall elections at a time of high unemployment.

Latino groups, immigrant advocates, religious organizations and others who support an immigration overhaul have expressed growing frustration as time appears to be running out. Immigrant activists called for a march on Washington on Sunday to press the administration, saying Obama was not delivering on a 2008 campaign pledge to advance legislation.

This announcement Thursday appeared timed ahead of the march, and followed a White House meeting Tuesday between Obama and the senators.

Still, White House officials indicate the issue has fallen down their priority list, as they struggle to push health-care legislation through Congress. In Thursday's White House briefing, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration's next two top priorities are financial regulatory reform and campaign finance legislation.

Schumer and Graham said the "four pillars" of their plan would not only help end illegal immigration but fuel the U.S. economy.

"Ending illegal immigration, however, cannot be the sole objective of reform. Developing a rational legal immigration system is essential to ensuring America's future economic prosperity," the senators wrote.

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