Republicans shoot down draft plan on immigration

President Obama's draft plan to overhaul immigration law to allow 11 million illegal immigrants to begin the process of becoming citizens has met strong Republican opposition. photograph: chris kleponis/getty images

President Obama's draft plan to overhaul immigration law to allow 11 million illegal immigrants to begin the process of becoming citizens has met strong Republican opposition. photograph: chris kleponis/getty images

Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 00:00

President Barack Obama’s draft plan to overhaul US immigration laws, including a proposal to allow 11 million illegal immigrants to move on to a path to citizenship after eight years, has been shot down by Republicans.

The White House proposal, revealed in a report in the USA Today newspaper on Saturday, would permit the so-called undocumented in the US, including thousands of illegal Irish immigrants, to become legal permanent residents within eight years before they could apply for green cards and US citizenship later.

Draft immigration legislation is being written by the Obama administration as members of the Senate and House of Representatives, in rare moments of non-partisanship over an emotive topic, draft their own bills.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said the president’s proposals would be “dead on arrival” in Congress as they failed to match immigration changes to better US border security.

“It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders [and] creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally,” he said.

“It would actually make our immigration problems worse.”

Mr Rubio is a member of the “Group of Eight” senators, split equally from the Democratic and Republican ranks, who joined forces to announce an outline of an immigration plan last month.

Paul Ryan, the Republican representative from Wisconsin and Mitt Romney’s running mate in last year’s presidential election, said the president’s bid to develop his own legislation would undermine efforts on Capitol Hill and were taking “things in the wrong direction”.

Republicans recognise the importance of tackling a broken US immigration system due to the growing voting power of Hispanics but they want a longer path to citizenship for illegal immigrants to ensure they do not skip ahead of legal applicants and that they are not rewarded for breaking US laws.

In his first appearances on Sunday talk shows since becoming White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough said the proposals were only a back-up in case Congress failed to produce its own bill.

“We’ve not proposed anything to Capitol Hill yet. We’re going to be ready. We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed,” said Mr McDonough, whose grandparents emigrated to the US from Connemara, Co Galway.

Ciarán Staunton, president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said the proposals would start formalising a process towards citizenship and could allow the undocumented to work legally in the interim.

“Being undocumented and it taking eight years before you get a green card is one thing but being able to work or travel within those eight years is another.”

He estimated that a bill would require the support of between 12 and 15 Republican senators to pass that chamber and to “send a signal” to the Republican-controlled lower House of Representatives.