“I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we’ve taken because we have to secure our borders,” Obama said of his plan during his post-election press conference. “I think it should contain serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and taking advantage of them. And I do think that there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work. It’s important for them to pay back-taxes. It’s important for them to learn English. It’s important for them to potentially pay a fine. But to give them the avenue whereby they can resolve their legal status here in this country I think is very important.”
One area where the two plans could diverge is the DREAM Act. Last summer, Rubio said he was formulating his own version, one that would not include a glide path toward citizenship for those qualified. He dropped the idea when Obama announced the cessation of deportations.
“One thing that I’m very clear about is that young people who are brought here through no fault of their own, who have gone to school here, pledged allegiance to our flag, want to serve in our military, want to go to school and contribute to our society, that they shouldn’t be under the cloud of deportation, that we should give them every opportunity to earn their citizenship,” Obama said.
The president has expanded on his plans a bit further, asserting that the nation’s business community is looking to allow more high-skilled workers into the country, adding that, “if you’ve got a PhD in physics or computer science who wants to stay here and start a business here, we shouldn’t make it harder for him to stay here; we should try to encourage him to contribute to this society.”
Agriculture, he said, also is looking to expand its workforce. One possible answer is the creation of a guest-worker program. Rubio also has expressed support for the idea.
“So there are going to be a bunch of components to it but I think whatever process we have needs to make sure our border security is strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a pathway for the undocumented here, needs to deal with the DREAM Act kids,” Obama said. “And I think that’s something that we can get done.”
It appears the public approves of the approaches taken by both Obama and Rubio. A poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research, a Democratic firm, and Shaw & Co. Research, a Republican outfit, for Fox News, conducted Jan. 15 through Jan. 17, showed that 66 percent of those surveyed support allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check. Only 17 percent favored sending them back to their home country while 13 percent endorsed a guest worker program.
Organizations devoted to stopping the influx of undocumented workers, like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which endorses stricter border measures, reacted harshly to the plans.
“Don’t be fooled, ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ is just another code word for a big amnesty that will eventually grant citizenship to over 12 million illegal aliens,” the group said in a statement. “Although over 22 million Americans are out of work or underemployed and wages have seen no real growth, our elected representatives seem convinced that the only thing that will cure all of our economic ills is amnesty and a vast expansion of guest worker programs. Rather than enforcing our immigration laws and securing our borders, they choose to put special interest groups ahead of the American people.”
Some liberal groups maintain providing a path toward full citizenship for undocumented workers is in the nation’s best interest.
“As Congress takes up immigration reform this session, it would be wise to keep in mind the social and economic benefits that come with granting a pathway to full citizenship,” said Philip E. Wolgin, immigration policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “The United States has always been a nation that thrives from fully integrating immigrants into the national polity, a nation of immigrants uniting around a common purpose. Anything less than granting a pathway to full citizenship is both un-American and runs counter to our nation’s best interests.”
Meanwhile, if neither Obama nor Rubio can piece together a solution amenable to all sides there is the Gang of Eight – a bipartisan group in the Senate trying to develop its own answer to the immigration issue. Led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.,) the assemblage includes Durbin, McCain, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).