Politics
President Barack Obama walks to the podium as he arrives for a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) President Barack Obama walks to the podium as he arrives for a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)  

Obama launches gradual effort toward amnesty for illegal immigrants

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama began pushing Wednesday for a critical move toward a Democrat-boosting immigration amnesty, declaring that an increased Latino “sense of empowerment and civic participation … is going to be powerful and good for the country.”

“I do think that there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country,” he said during the post-election press conference in the East Room of the White House.

Previous Washington efforts to provide amnesty to illegal immigrants have failed amid bipartisan push-back from voters, however, even when the economy was growing and unemployment was low.

Illegal immigrants, especially Latinos, tend to support liberal lawmakers’ entitlement programs and to pull their relatives and ethnic peers towards the Democratic Party. For example, Obama won almost 70 percent of the growing Latino vote in the 2012 election, partly because of his Obamacare health-sector regulation, but also because of support for some form of legal amnesty for Latino immigrants who entered the country unlawfully.

In contrast, the GOP candidate, Gov. Mitt Romney, did best with married Latinos, by winning almost 35 percent of their votes. He won only 20 percent of unmarried Latinos’ votes, according to an exit poll of 40,000 people conducted by Reuters and Ipsos.

Latinos comprised almost 8 percent of the electorate, and split their vote roughly 3-to-1 in favor of Democratic Party candidates, according to the poll.

In contrast, white voters’ share of the electorate was 76 percent, according to Ipsos. Romney won almost 60 percent of the white vote, despite evidence of lower-than-expected support among that group in Midwestern states.

To advance his proposed amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, Obama today offered to mollify public concerns and package it with benefits sought by politically powerful lobbies. (RELATED: Obama to Republicans on Benghazi: ‘Go after me’)

He acknowledged public concerns about unemployment and a renewed wave of illegal immigrants by promising border controls and hiring regulations.

A deal should “include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we’ve taken … [and] serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and [take] advantage of them” by paying them lower than normal wages,” Obama said.

That’s a subtle handshake for labor unions, some of which favor amnesty; others worry that immigrant workers will drive down their members’ wages.

Border controls, however, do not effect the many illegal immigrants who overstay short-term visas. Many illegals also take off-the-books employment from friends and family members, effectively making themselves invisible to America’s workplace laws and regulations.

To head off concern from voters worried about increased diversity, Obama also said that the amnesty should be given to people not “engaged in criminal activity … [who] pay back taxes … [and] learn English.”

Previous legislative proposals have simply required illegals to enroll in English classes, and have relied upon cursory background interviews that did not uncover previous criminal activity.