In an interview with radio show host El Piolín this week, President Obama renewed his campaign pledge to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who go through background checks, pay taxes, and get at the back of the citizenship line. Following on the heels of comments by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Obama’s remarks make it clear that his Administration plans to follow through on the President’s campaign trail promise to take up immigration reform during his first year in office.
On Tuesday, President Obama told Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo, “We’re going to make sure that we begin the process of dealing with the immigration system that’s broken. We’re going to start by really trying to work on how to improve the current system so that people who want to be naturalized, who want to become citizens, like you did, that they are able to do it; that it’s cheaper, that it’s faster, that they have an easier time in terms of sponsoring family members. And then we’ve got to have comprehensive immigration reform. Now, you know, we need to get started working on it now. It’s going to take some time to move that forward, but I’m very committed to making it happen. And we’re going to be convening leadership on this issue so that we can start getting that legislation drawn up over the next several months.”
In addition to the President, prominent voices from the Obama Administration and other key allies have offered support for tackling immigration reform this year. In a recent interview with Hispanic journalists, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel noted the debate over the immigration-related components of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and stated that “the arrow is pointing in a different direction in relation to immigration politics in this country.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) highlighted his intention to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in 2009, stating “I hope that we can get it done in September, and I feel confident that we can get this done.” And labor leader John Wilhelm, President Hospitality Industry, UNITE HERE! said the “American people have embraced the proposition that has always been true about our country: that we will succeed as a nation if we put our divisions aside and work together. As we work to rebuild this country, it is important that all workers and all employers are on an even playing field.”
“We applaud President Obama for recognizing that common-sense immigration reform is urgently needed,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “He clearly understands the urgency of dealing with an issue that has become a symbol of how politicians in Washington duck tough problems rather than solve them. He also gets that a smart approach to reform is consistent with the drive to right the economy. That is why we expect the President’s approach to comprehensive immigration reform will be pro-worker, pro-taxpayer, pro-rule of law, and pro-family.
“We believe that the 2009 version of comprehensive reform should prioritize the following key elements: 1) mount an aggressive crack down on bad actor employers who engage in wage theft, misclassification of independent contractors, and other forms of exploitation, practices which conspire to undermine the working conditions of all lower-wage workers; 2) devise and implement a workable employee verification system that significantly reduces illegal hiring, combined with aggressive enforcement against those who end run the system; 3) institute a program that ensures immigrants in the U.S. without authorization will come forward, pass background checks, study English, pay taxes and get to the back of the citizenship line; and 4) reduce the family reunification backlogs to address the legitimate equity concerns of those waiting in line outside the country.
“This combination will help end illegal immigration, level the playing field for law-abiding workers and employers, reduce worker exploitation and abuse, lift wages for all lower-wage workers, generate billions in tax revenues from both employers and workers who have been operating off the books, and unite families in a timely fashion. Other components will and should be considered, but the priority should be to deal with presence of 12 million undocumented workers already here, restore integrity to low wage labor markets, treat all workers fairly, increase tax compliance, and enforce labor and immigration laws in a way that supports these objectives rather than undermines them.”
America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.