Time for immigration reform: Obama

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Washington, Jan 30 (IANS) Seizing an emerging consensus on immigration reform, President Barack Obama asked the US Congress to act fast to offer a "pathway to citizenship" for over 11 million illegal immigrants, including 240,000 from India.

Unveiling his own plan at a campaign style event at a Hispanic majority high school in Las Vegas, Nevada, Obama Tuesday warned that if Congress does not act "in a timely fashion" he will propose a bill "and insist that they vote on it right away."

Declaring "now's the time" to replace a "badly broken" system, Obama said the overhaul must provide a "pathway to citizenship" for the illegal immigrants, 6.8 million or 59 percent of whom are from Mexico. El Salvador was a distant second with 660,000.

India with 240,000 ranked seventh after Guatemala, Honduras, China, Philippines in 2011, according to a March 2012 Department of Homeland Security report.

But Illegal immigrants from India were among the fastest growing with their numbers nearly doubling since 2000. Indian immigrants are also generally better educated with many of them students overstaying their visas as they endlessly wait for green cards for permanent residence status.

Obama acknowledged as much saying "There's another economic reason why we need reform" as apart from those coming illegally, even those trying to come legally "have a hard time doing so, and the effect that has on our economy."

The US was "giving them all the skills they need" to "brilliant students from all over the world" in its top universities, he said. "But then we're going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else?"

"That's not how you grow new industries in America. That's how you give new industries to our competitors. That's why we need comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said.

Obama described a blueprint unveiled Monday by eight senators-four from each party-for overhauling the immigration system as a sign of renewed desire by Democrats and Republicans to tackle the issue. The plan was "very much in line with the principles I've proposed and campaigned on for the last few years," he said specifying three pillars of

immigration reform.

These were better enforcement of immigration laws, providing a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, and reforming the legal immigration system.

To earn the opportunity for citizenship, Obama said undocumented immigrants must first pass a background check, learn English, pay a penalty, and then get "in the back of the line" behind people trying to come to America legally.

The principles described by Obama on Tuesday were similar to the framework proposed Monday by the eight senators. But some conservatives immediately voiced their opposition to what they called "amnesty" for illegal immgrants.

The mainstream media reaction to the Obama plan was generally positive with influential New York Times editorially calling it "A Better Immigration Plan" that "makes a path to citizenship central, and offers ways to end backlogs and reunite families."

In the Washington Post's view Obama "has offered a useful roadmap . that closely mirrors the bipartisan accord taking shape in the Senate." He was also "right to let Congress take the first crack at an immigration bill."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)