WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will launch a campaign next week aimed at overhauling the nation's flawed immigration system and creating legal status for millions, as a bipartisan Senate group nears agreement on achieving the same goals.
The proposals from Obama and lawmakers will mark the start of what is expected to be a contentious and emotional process with deep political implications. Latino voters overwhelmingly backed Obama in the 2012 election, leaving Republicans grappling for a way to regain their standing with an increasingly powerful pool of voters.
The president will press his case for immigration changes during a trip to Las Vegas Tuesday. The Senate working group is also aiming to outline its proposals next week, according to a Senate aide.
Administration officials say Obama's second-term immigration push will be a continuation of the principles he outlined during his first four years in office but failed to act on. He is expected to revive his little-noticed 2011 immigration "blueprint," which calls for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants that includes paying fines and back taxes; increased border security; mandatory penalties for businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants; and improvements to the legal immigration system, including giving green cards to high-skilled workers and lifting caps on legal immigration for the immediate family members of U.S. citizens.
"What has been absent in the time since he put those principles forward has been a willingness by Republicans, generally speaking, to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "What he hopes is that that dynamic has changed."
The political dynamic does appear to have shifted following the November election. Despite making little progress on immigration in his first term, Obama won more than 70 percent of the Latino vote, in part because of the conservative positions on immigration that Republican nominee Mitt Romney staked out during the GOP primary. Latino voters accounted for 10 percent of the electorate in November.
The president met privately Friday morning with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss his next steps on immigration. Among those in the meeting was Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who said Obama told lawmakers "immigration reform is his number one legislative priority."
That could bump back the president's efforts to seek legislation enacting stricter gun laws, another issue he has vowed to make a top second term priority.
The Senate immigration group is also pressing for quick action, aiming to draft a bill by March and pass legislation in their chamber 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.
Senate lawmakers working on the immigration 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, according to Senate aides.
Democrat Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah have also been involved. It's not clear whether all those involved will sign on to the principles the group hopes to roll out next week.