WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House and a bipartisan group of senators will launch separate efforts next week to jumpstart negotiations to overhaul the immigration system, an issue that has languished in Washington for years.
Obama will start his second-term immigration push during a trip to Las Vegas Tuesday. The Senate working group is also aiming to outline its proposals at about the same time, according to a Senate aide.
Even before those plans are formally unveiled, there is emerging consensus on several key components, most notably the need for some kind of pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The White House and Senate Democrats favor addressing immigration through a broad package of legislation, while some Republicans lawmakers prefer to tackle the issue through several separate bills.
The proposals will mark the start of what’s sure to be a contentious and emotional campaign in the wake of 2012 election results that saw Latino voters turn out in large numbers to re-elect Obama—a signal to some Republican leaders that the party needed to change its posture on immigration.
The aim of the Senate group is to draft an immigration bill by March and pass legislation in the Senate by August, said the aide, who requested anonymity in order to discuss private deliberations. The Republican-controlled House would also need to pass the legislation before it went to the White House for the president’s signature.
For Obama, a successful push on immigration reform would be a promise kept to the Latino community after he disappointed many by failing to act on the issue in his first term, and it could be central to his legacy. The president met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House Friday to discuss his upcoming proposals.
Following his re-election, Obama has pledged to tackle immigration reform during his second term.
“I think we have talked about it long enough,” Obama said during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” in December. “We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That’s something we should get done.”
For Republicans, tackling immigration reform could be a way to broaden their appeal among Latino voters who are increasingly key to presidential elections. Latino voters accounted for 10 percent of the electorate in November, and 71 percent backed Obama over the 27 percent who voted for Romney.
In the Senate, lawmakers working on the effort include Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Several of these lawmakers are veterans of the immigration reform efforts that ultimately failed under then-President George W. Bush.
Rubio is a relative newcomer to Senate negotiations on the issue, but he’s seen as a rising star in his party and a potential 2016 presidential candidate. As a charismatic young Hispanic leader his proposals on immigration have attracted wide notice in recent weeks.
A few other lawmakers have also been involved including Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah. It’s not clear that all those involved will sign on to the principles the group hopes to roll out next week.