WASHINGTON — President Obama held a campaign-style rally in Las Vegas yesterday in his biggest attempt yet to muscle immigration reform through a divided Congress, saying that now is the time to act on an issue that went nowhere in his first term.
Standing before a dozen US flags at a Vegas high school, Obama pointed to new movement in the Senate as cause for optimism, a day after a bipartisan group of senators released a plan with a “path to citizenship” directly linked to border-security improvements.
“The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now,” Obama told the crowd invited by the White House.
Obama campaigned on the issue last year, promising to push it during the first year of his second term. His proposals aren’t new — he laid them out in a similar speech last year.
But the new push marks the first time that Obama is putting his shoulder fully to the wheel in an attempt to get something through Congress.
The president took executive actions during his re-election campaign to give thousands of young people who came here illegally as minors a chance to apply to stay — a move that helped him win over Latino voters in droves.
Yesterday, Obama rolled out four general principles of reform: undocumented immigrants must “earn their way” to citizenship; the immigration system must be streamlined, border enforcement must be strengthened, and officials must crack down more forcefully on companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Obama said the 11 million undocumented immigrants here “aren’t looking for any trouble.”
The White House tried to downplay the main split in a new compromise reached by the Senate’s “Gang of 8” — four Republicans and four Democrats.
Republicans in the group added the condition that the path to citizenship would come only after the border is secured. The Obama plan calls for both goals, but with no linkage.
“Gang” member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said yesterday it would be a “terrible mistake” to allow a path to citizenship without locking in security gains.
“For the president to try to move the goal posts on that specific requirement, as an example, does not bode well in terms of what his role’s going to be in this or the outcome,” Rubio fumed on Fox News. He warned: “If that’s not in the bill, I won’t support it.”
Even if pro-reform forces push a bill through the Senate, it could get picked apart in the House, where some critics are already labeling it “amnesty.”
CASE STUDY #1
Businesswoman Martha Guolotuna, 53, left behind three children — the youngest, a son just 11 months old — when she departed Quito, Ecuador, for a new life in the United States 18 years ago.
“If I was granted legal status, the first thing I would do is hop on a plane and see my children,” she said. “My youngest was just a baby when I left and I haven’t seen him since.
“Life has been good here. I own Emanuel Corporation Body Shop in Willets Point, Queens. But I need to get a driver’s license to really run my business — and I can’t because I’m not legal. I want to stop living in the shadows and be treated like everyone else.”
“I like what the president said,” Guolotuna added after watching Obama’s address at a high school in Las Vegas.
“I pay my taxes; my family and others deserve this.”
CASE STUDY #2
Yenny Quispe [member of Make the Road New York], 21, has been in America for 10 years after fleeing Peru with her mother and brother to escape her abusive father.
She wanted to hear a lot more from President Obama in his Las Vegas speech.
“I was expecting more details from the president about what his plan was and what Congress was talking about,” Quispe said.
“I just hope that this time will be different because we’ve been waiting a long time,” she said. “I hope this will benefit everyone, not just farmers.”
Quispe got her residency card just two days ago but the rest of her family remains undocumented.
“Right now I’m still scared that my mother and brother could be deported,” she said.
“And what would I do with them? They’re my family.”
CASE STUDY #3
Tania Gordillo [member of Make the Road New York], 43, came to the United States in 1995 from Ecuador and learned what it’s like to be undocumented.
She got a job as a seamstress but was fired because of her illegal status, she said.
“I’m tired of constantly looking over my shoulder and living in fear that immigration officials will come knocking on my door and deport me and my husband,” she said.
“I have a family here and I had to move three times because they wanted to deport us. Once they missed us by one day,” she said.
She said she liked what she heard from President Obama, agreeing that the time has come for immigration reform.
“I’ve been waiting 18 years to get my legal status,” she said. “I haven’t seen my mother in 18 years and I really would like to see her.”