White House continues push for immigration reform

16:09, September 29, 2010      

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A White House official on Tuesday continued the administration's push for comprehensive immigration reform, indicating that a debate over the emotional issue may be underway sooner rather than later.

Speaking at a think tank event in Washington, White House Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Melody Barnes noted that Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, said he planned to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the near future.

Revamping the immigration system is an issue that cannot be pushed aside, even if tackling it is not politically savvy, Barnes said.

"Ignoring these challenges may be good for the next elections, but it is not good for our country. It does not help us build long-term prosperity," she said. "And that is why the president has instructed his team, and the White House and his cabinet to work to pass comprehensive immigration reform."

There are around 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and overhauling the nation's immigration system is a contentious issue. While many Democrats support Obama's vision of reform, opponents said allowing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers -- one of U.S. President Barack Obama's key proposals for reform -- will result in even more illegal immigration.

Echoing a message Obama has voiced in the past, Barnes outlined the reforms the administration wants to put in place.

The reforms include beefing up border security, improving technology for the verification of legal status, and imposing stiffer penalties on companies that hire immigrants illegally as well as a path to citizenship in which undocumented workers would get in line behind legal immigrants who have waited for years, she said.

"Immigration reform just makes good common sense," Barnes said.

Reform would also ensure that undocumented workers fully pay their share of taxes, she said, adding that the extra revenue could help address some of the current fiscal challenges the United States is facing.

A comprehensive immigration reform package would also address the barriers experienced by those who wish to immigrate legally to the United States, and Barnes said that an overhaul would encourage highly skilled workers to move to and remain in the United States.

Indeed, it is difficult for foreign students educated in the United States to remain there after graduation, due to visa restrictions. Both they and major U.S. corporations have complained about the long lines and morass of red tape through which foreign talent must wade in order to obtain a work visa.

Obama has said that current laws amount to the United States training overseas competition, as many foreign graduates of top U.S. universities are forced to return home when they cannot obtain visa sponsorship.

"Immigrants can help create demand for new goods and services which employ thousands of American workers and help make our economy more dynamic," Barnes said.

"We can all think of the companies, the CEOs, the entrepreneurs, the innovators, who have been doing that in America over time and in recent months and years," she said.

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