Plans advanced by senators, Obama offer hope for immigrants
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 1:33 p.m.
Francisco Olivares, a 38-year-old undocumented immigrant who lives with his family in Sebastopol, has a lot riding on the promises of a president.
Two years ago, during a traffic stop, Olivares ended up in jail because he could not produce valid U.S. identification. That in turn landed him in the hands of federal immigration officials, and he's faced a deportation order ever since.
But Olivares, the father of four U.S.-born children, said he has cause for hope. He said a plan by a bipartisan group of senators to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, announced Monday and lauded by the president on Tuesday, could change his life.
"It would be a blessing for me and my family," Olivares said, speaking in Spanish. "Especially for me, because I'm now facing deportation."
President Barack Obama, speaking Tuesday at a high school in Las Vegas, said he would hold off on introducing his own immigration proposal and give senators a chance to get their bill through Congress.
But he warned that if such a bill got bogged down in Congress he "will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away."
Obama's proposal, outlined in a fact sheet, was very similar to the bipartisan Senate proposal. But Obama's plan would give U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents the ability to seek a visa for a committed same-sex partner. The president's plan also would not link the pathway to "earned citizenship" to tougher border security.
The senate proposal, made by a bipartisan group of six senators, would:
Create a "tough but fair" path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that is contingent on greater border security.
Create a fast and reliable electronic employment verification system and impose stiff fines on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers.
Improve the current legal immigration process by, among other things, reducing visa backlogs that separate families, and award green cards to immigrants with advanced degrees in science engineering and math.
Give illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children an easier path to citizenship.
Obama said Tuesday, "Now, we all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship. But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship," Obama said.
Jesus Guzman, head of the immigration task force of the North Bay Organizing Project, was in the audience at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas to hear Obama's remarks.
Guzman said he was encouraged to hear the president challenge Congress to act or he would deliver his own bill.
"He hadn't said that before," Guzman said, shortly after the president finished his speech. "That was one of the telling signs that there's an effort in good faith that's being made. A lot of times, he's washing his hands, saying, 'I'm not a king.' This was something new he hadn't said."
The choice of Nevada for the president's speech was a reminder to the GOP that the country's demographics are shifting. Eighty percent of Latinos in Nevada voted for Obama in the 2012 election.
The Latino vote nationally was crucial to Obama returning to the White House, and many political observers believe that Mitt Romney's tough stance on immigration during the primaries cost him the significant Latino support that former President George W. Bush won in 2004.
Christopher Kerosky, Olivares' immigration attorney, said the push to get a comprehensive immigration bill through Congress has the best chance in five years.
Kerosky said the last time lawmakers in Washington pushed for an overhaul of immigration laws was in 2007. That legislative effort stalled in the Senate, he said.
"This time, the fight is going to be in the House," he said.
This time, he said, there are a lot of "attractive elements" for business-minded Republicans, including a guest worker program, an electronic employee verification system and what appears to be a restructuring of the entire system of preferences for work-related visas.
"If it passes, it's going to change the lives of a huge segment of our county population," Kerosky said.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com.
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