President Obama gave a thumbs up Thursday to the outline of a plan to legalize illegal immigrants and create a flow of low-skilled foreign workers for the future, saying the immigration bill being worked on by a Republican and a Democrat is “promising.”
In their broad blueprint, Sens. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, call for illegal immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship, offer green cards to keep high-skilled foreign university graduates and would create a temporary program for low-skilled workers, with some also getting the chance to become citizens.
The senators also proposed to turn all Social Security cards into tamper-proof IDs to be checked by employers when they are about to hire a worker. The cards would include biometric information designed to prevent counterfeiting — but the senators said the information would not be stored in a government database. “I congratulate Senators Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. Obama said in a statement soon after the two senators published their blueprint in a column submitted to The Washington Post.
The carefully orchestrated rollout came just three days before immigrant-rights advocates expect at least 50,000 supporters to rally and march in Washington, D.C., calling for Congress to act. The organizers of the rally had met with Mr. Obama last week and told him he needed to embrace a bill or else the thousands of marchers would be told that he had failed to live up to his promises on this issue.
But the outline is just a first step in what’s still a very rocky legislative path. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said flatly that it can’t pass. “The bill doesn’t have a prayer, because the American people oppose rewarding lawbreakers, which then encourages illegal immigration,” he said. “Allowing millions of illegal immigrants to stay and take jobs away from citizens is like giving a burglar a key to the house. Illegal immigrants should return home and play by the rules like millions of legal immigrants.”
And adding to the bill’s troubles, Mr. Graham has warned Democrats and Mr. Obama that if they use the budget process to push health care through Congress — known as reconciliation — that could poison any chance for bipartisan cooperation on immigration.
Also, the blueprint is broad, and doesn’t delve into many key details that could still split the coalition of labor, business, religious and ethnic groups that have joined together to try to pass a bill.