(USA TODAY) -- President Obama is pledging to negotiate with Congress on immigration
legislation, but he is also working with another group: voters.
flew more than 2,000 miles Tuesday to make his immigration pitch,
visiting a politically pivotal state with a growing Hispanic population
-- Nevada -- and urging backers to pressure Congress into supporting a
Speaking at a high school in Las Vegas, Obama said
Democrats and Republicans are starting to come together on a new
immigration bill that would include a pathway to citizenship for 11
million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform," Obama
said before echoing a mantra, "now's the time ... now's the time."
Obama complimented the immigration framework put forward Monday by
a bipartisan group of eight senators, most of which is similar to a
plan the president has pushed for years. The president said "this time
action must follow," and immigration should not get "bogged down in
endless debates," as it has in the past.
"The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become," Obama said.
The president said his immigration principles also include tighter security at the border,
crackdowns on businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants, and
streamlined processes for foreign students and high-skilled workers, as
well as what Obama called "a pathway to earned citizenship."
was the first out-of-town trip of Obama's second term, and mirrors a
tactic previously used by him and many predecessors: seeking to go over
the heads of Congress and appeal directly to voters who can determine
the political fate.
In his first term, Obama traveled
the country in favor of such items as his health care bill and jobs
plans. In the coming months, he is expected to make similar public
appearances for a proposal to tackle gun violence, and perhaps to rally
support in looming budget disputes with congressional Republicans.
rarely hurts you," said Eric Herzik, who chairs the political science
department at the University of Nevada, Reno. "It raises the issue, and
he gets a hearing outside the bubble of Washington, D.C."
a new non-profit organization called Organizing For Action, culled from
Obama's 2012 campaign, is also planning to build support for the
president's agenda, including gun control and a new immigration law.
Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada, noted
that Obama and his backers aren't the only ones out there seeking to
mobilize voters on immigration and other issues. So are conservative
groups, some of which say that immigration policy should focus strictly
on border security and deportation, not citizenship.
It's battle that may be fought out on the airwaves, over the Internet, and through the media, as well as on the stump.
"We are seeing more groups pressuring Congress in more ways than we ever have historically," Green said.
While Obama tries to win people to his side on immigration, some Republicans are warning against one of the potential by-products of the "take it to the people" strategy: Excessive partisanship.
Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said there
are "a lot of ideas" about how to fix the immigration system, and "we
hope the President is careful not to drag the debate to the left and
ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and
Among the potential roadblocks to an immigration bill:
• House Republicans. GOP members are the majority in the U.S. House, which must sign off on any immigration bill. Many Republicans describe any pathway to citizenship as amnesty for lawbreakers.
Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told CNN she and other House Republicans
want to see specific legislative language on any immigration plan. In
the past, she said, "what we've learned is, if you grant amnesty, what
do you get? More amnesty. More illegal entry."
• The rules of the road to citizenship:
Backers of the Senate plan -- notably key Republican Sen. Marco Rubio
of Florida, a potential presidential candidate who is trying to sell an
immigration bill to conservatives -- wants to tie the pathway to
specific improvements in border security.
Obama has said he wants a clear pathway from the start, with no conditions.
• Same-sex couples.
One of the goals of the Obama immigration plan is to prevent the
splitting of families, some of whom are legal immigrants, and this
includes same-sex couples.
"The president has long believed that
Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be
faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love
or staying in the country they love," said White House spokesman Jay
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the Republican authors
of the bipartisan plan, told MSNBC that the issue of same sex couples is
"not of paramount importance" to the overall bill, and could be a "red
flag." McCain said immigration supporters "need to get broad consensus"
on their proposal first.