Obama promises ‘pathway to citizenship’ for illegal immigrants

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : President Barack Obama has vowed to pursue comprehensive US immigration reform later this year with a view to enacting legislation in 2010 providing a “pathway to citizenship” for millions of illegal immigrants.

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“We have a broken immigration system. Nobody denies it,” he said at a joint news conference in Guadalajara, Mexico Monday after attending a North American summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

While Mexicans make up nearly 60 percent of an estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the US, Indians are the fastest-growing group of the lot. There are 270,000 unauthorised Indians in the US – a 125 percent jump since 2000, according to a US Department of Homeland Security report.

The report says though the number of Indian immigrants is low when compared to people from Mexico, the Indian context is appalling as the illegal immigrants mostly consist of high-skilled workers. Illegal immigrants from other countries are mostly low-skilled workers.

Dismissing the idea that the mid-term elections next year would play a role in reform, Obama said he regards immigration reform as being in the long-term interest of the United States and would not act “on short-term political calculations.”

Continuing on the current path means tensions with Mexico, danger for those trying to cross into the United States illegally, unfairness for those trying to immigrate legally, exploitation by unscrupulous employers, the depression of US wages and other ills, Obama said.

“It’s not fair, and it’s not right, and we’re going to change it,” he said.

But he said it was “very important for us to sequence these big initiatives in way where they don’t all just crash at the same time.”

He said meetings have begun on immigration reform among House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano coordinating the discussions.

“I would anticipate that before the year is out we will have draft legislation, along with sponsors potentially in the House and Senate, who are ready to move this forward,” Obama said.

Then, next year, “we should be in a position to start acting,” he said, although he acknowledged that “this is going to be difficult.”

The overhaul would give illegal immigrants in the United States the opportunity “to achieve a pathway to citizenship so that they don’t have to live in the shadows,” Obama said. “So I’m confident we can get it done.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])