Obama floats ambitious immigration bill, stops short of simple ‘amnesty’ promise

President Barack Obama will soon push for a massive change to U.S. immigration law that would provide a kind of conditional amnesty for roughly 11 million illegal immigrants, import more unskilled and skilled workers, and speed up visas for relatives of new arrivals.

But the White House argues that the ambitious legislation would penalize illegal immigrants seeking legal status.

Obama’s bill was sketched out in a Jan. 12 leak to The New York Times, and it won immediate plaudits from the National Council of La Raza, a major Hispanic lobby group.

The bill does not include provisions favored by immigration reformers, such as NumbersUSA — which wants to spur employment of American workers. That group’s legislative goals include a reduction in the flow of low-skilled workers, and a cutback in the number of “family reunification” green cards offered to relatives of new immigrants.

Ethnic lobbies and progressive advocates say they can win passage of the White House’s bill, partly because GOP leaders were shocked by Obama’s lopsided margin of victory among Hispanic voters in November.

Countering expected opposition, the White House said its bill would not grant amnesty to the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

Instead, “the White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty … because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status,” the Times reported.

“The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs [of people waiting to immigrate] and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.”

But the bill’s future is threatened by a high unemployment level that has left 23 million Americans without full-time employment, and many others skeptical about the need for immigration. (RELATED ANALYSIS: In Obama’s economy, immigrants outpace native-born Americans)

A Gallup poll released Dec. 20 showed that only 2 percent of respondents believe immigration is “the most important problem facing this country.” The economy and unemployment, together, were cited as the most important issues by 40 percent of respondents.

In previous immigration debates in 2006 and 2007, intense public opposition pushed many legislators to hedge or reverse their initial support for immigration expansions.

Much of the public’s opposition was then based on worries about the impact of immigration on jobs and wages.

Since 1973, the after-inflation hourly wage paid to the bottom 20 percent of American workers has climbed by only 4 percent, to $33,426, according to a Jan. 12 New York Times article.