WASHINGTON - Paving a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States is just part of the immigration reform plan President Barack Obama spelled out Tuesday.
One week after being sworn in to a second term, Obama is tackling major reforms to the nation's immigration policy as promised.
The White House and Senate offered separate proposals for tackling the complex issue, but both focused on the same principles.
The president said differences over how to achieve comprehensive immigration reform have dwindled and the time to act is now.
Speaking at a campaign-style event at a Las Vegas high school, Obama said he wants Congress to:
- Continue strengthening and securing U.S. borders,
- Crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants by increasing penalties and using other tools like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services E-Verify system,
- Streamline the legal immigration process,
- Create a path for illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
The president said deporting 11 million illegal immigrants isn't practical. To earn citizenship, undocumented people would have to pass a background check, pay taxes, and a penalty.
In otherwords, they'd have to go to the end of the line and learn English.
"I believe we are finally at a moment, Obama said. "That's a big deal."
The president acknowledged that this is an emotional debate. But he cautioned against division among Americans, recalling that most Americans are descended from immigrants. He said the debate is about people, not policy.