WASHINGTON, March 25 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday used the moment of a naturalization ceremony at the White House to push Congress to put forward the immigration reform legislation.
The president, who has just come back from a Middle East trip, hosted the naturalization ceremony for 28 new citizens, including 13 service members, at the White House, as the latest effort to press lawmakers on immigration overhaul, a top legislative priority for his second term.
TIME TO FIX IT
"And like the millions who came before -- and like the 28 Americans who are here today -- they will bring with them new hopes and new dreams, new ideas and new optimism about our future. That will make us stronger. That's how we'll make sure that our best days are ahead of us and not behind us," said the president at the ceremony.
Obama said he expected the Congress' debate on an immigration bill to "begin next month" and he wanted to sign the bill into law "as soon as possible."
"After avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all," said the president, "The time has come for a comprehensive, sensible immigration reform."
Obama also stressed that the legislation should include an earned citizenship to illegal immigrants currently living in the country, one of the hottest issue amid the country's debate on immigration overhaul.
"We know that real reform means providing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the shadows -- a pathway that includes passing a background check and paying taxes and a penalty, and learning English and then, going to the back of the line behind everyone else who is trying to come here legally."
Obama vowed to push on immigration reforms during his re- election bid last year and won over majority of Latino voters over the past two presidential elections. There are estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, mostly Latinos, who have been, as the president said when unveiling his proposals in January, "woven into the fabric of our lives."
CHANCE OF DEBATE NEXT MONTH
Bipartisan groups in both the House and Senate are moving closer to finalize their separate immigration reform proposals.
The Senate group, dubbed "Gang of Eight", expect themselves to finalize their detailed package by the end of this month and bring it up when legislators return from a two-week Easter break.
The effort by the Senate group of eight has received more attention over the weeks. The group, including top-ranking Democrats and leading Republicans on immigration reform like veteran Senator John McCain and Hispanic Republican star Marco Rubio, announced their framework of principles to guide the immigration reform at the end of January. One day later, U.S. President Barack Obama officially unveiled his own proposals on immigration reform.
Both plans to overhaul the immigration system include giving an earned citizenship to illegal immigrants as well as awarding green cards to foreign young high-end workforce.
The bipartisan House group has yet to share details of their proposals, but their work has gained support from leaders in both parties, particularly when the Republicans sent an encouraging signal.
Last week, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who had never endorsed the negotiation previously, voiced support for the group' s plan, calling it "a pretty responsible solution."
Obama's re-election and Republican challenger Mitt Romney's loss also sparked a period of soul searching among the fractured Republican party. The party is now struggling to revamp its brand and appeal to the country's minorities who have not been associated with it typically.
The U.S. demographic landscape is undergoing a major shift as the current minority communities continue to grow while the whites could become minority in next three decades, according to U.S. census.
Hispanics, a fast-growing group in particular, is a huge target group that Democrats hope to secure and Republicans aspire to win back in future elections. Latino-Americans voted for Obama over Romney 71 percent to 27 percent in the 2012 presidential race.
Advocates for immigration reform now see a decent chance for legislation to pass Congress this year.
"Asian-Americans are the fastest growing population in the country and Hispanic-Americans make up the largest ethnic group of the non-white population. Immigration played an important role in the debate of the last general election and that has gotten the attention of Republican politicians who ignored the need for comprehensive immigration reform, but are now willing to consider passing the legislation," said Adrian Pedroza, executive director of Partnership for Community Action and member of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
He told Xinhua that by allowing undocumented immigrants to earn a path to citizenship would help them to be "fully contributing members of this country."
About 63 percent of Americans agree that the immigration system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the country by allowing them a way to become citizens, according to a survey released last Thursday by the Public Religion Research and the Brookings Institution.
However, a bad news for supporters of immigration reform is that among the seven issues with political priority for the White House and Congress, immigration only ranked sixth, far behind economic issues.
It remains to be seen whether the spring has sprung for a comprehensive immigration reform on Capitol Hill.