Houstonians react to Obama's immigration reform plan

Published On: Jan 29 2013 05:33:41 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 29 2013 05:35:24 PM CST
Obama pitches immigration reform
HOUSTON -

Immigration is a hot-button issue in Texas, and President Barack Obama's plan to reform immigration laws has the attention of Houstonians.

Declaring "now is the time" to fix broken immigration laws, Obama urged Congress to put millions of illegal immigrants on a clear path to U.S. citizenship while cracking down on businesses that employ people illegally and tightening security at the borders.

As the President explained his plans for immigration reform, the group FIEL watched closely.

"We have our permits to work here, but still we want something better than that," student Araceli Sanchez said.

But both the White House and Senate proposals for tackling the complex and emotionally charged issue still lack key details.

In Austin, State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Houston) told Local 2, "Border security has got to be the first thing that we look at. There's not a single nation in the world that would agree to have open borders and any and everybody can come through."

State Rep. Armando Walle (R-Houston) said, "I think it's great for not just the economy, but also to bring these folks out of the shadows."

The President, in the heart of the heavily-Hispanic southwest, praised the Senate push, saying Congress is showing "a genuine desire to get this done soon."

But mindful of previous immigrations efforts that have failed, he warned that the debate would become more difficult as it gets closer to a conclusion.

"The question now is simple," President Obama said during a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, one week after being sworn in for a second term in the White House.

"Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do."

"It won't be a quick process, but it will be a fair process," the President added.

Another key difference between the White House and Senate proposals is the administration's plan to allow same-sex partners to seek visas under the same rules that govern other family immigration.

The Senate principles do not recognize same-sex partners, though Democratic lawmakers have told gay rights groups that they could seek to include that in a final bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who is among the eight in the Senate immigration group, called the issue a "red flag" in an interview Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

Washington last took up immigration changes in a serious way in 2007, when then-President George W. Bush pressed for an overhaul.

The initial efforts had bipartisan support but eventually collapsed in the Senate because of a lack of GOP support.

Cognizant of that failed effort, the White House has readied its own immigration legislation.

But officials said Obama will send it to the Hill only if the Senate process stalls.

Some of the recommendations in the Senate plan are also pulled from past immigration efforts.

The senators involved in formulating the latest proposals, in addition to McCain, are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Also Tuesday, in another sign of Congress' increased attention to immigration issues, a group of four senators introduced legislation aimed at allowing more high-tech workers into the country, a longtime priority of technology businesses.

The bill by Republicans Rubio and Orrin Hatch and Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons would increase the number of visas available for high-tech workers, make it easier for them to change jobs once here and for their spouses to work, and aim to make it easier for foreigners at U.S. universities to remain here upon graduation.