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Immigration Advocates Bullish on Obama's State of the Union

Assured and galvanized by his speech last week in Las Vegas, immigration overhaul advocates don’t expect to hear anything new on the issue from President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

“I am going to predict he is going to say nothing different, and it’s going to be not as extensive as Las Vegas because he is going to cover a range of topics,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of left-leaning immigration advocacy group America’s Voice on a conference call with reporters Friday.

“Sometimes in the past we have breathlessly counted the number of words and where it was in the speech,” Sharry continued. “The fact that he went to Las Vegas and threw down the way he did has really mobilized and motivated many of us in the immigration reform movement.”

In his speech, Obama made the case for why changes are needed and laid out what he wants to see in the measure, including a path to citizenship, an overhauled legal immigration system, a goal of reducing the hiring of undocumented workers, and continued securing of the border.

“We want him to mention it, but he has already proven that this is his top legislative priority for the first six months of this year,” Sharry said. “We are pretty confident that we are in a good position to move forward.”

Sharry was on the call with Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together and chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans; Javier Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York; and Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

His comments come as a bipartisan group of eight senators released a framework for legislation and are currently drafting a bill. Their framework is similar to the president’s, but the senators want to make the path to citizenship contingent on certain metrics being met with regard to border security.

Obama has said he intends to introduce his own plan if the process gets bogged down.

The goal is to mark up a bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, pass it by April or May and have it signed into law by the end of July, Sharry said. The first Senate hearing is scheduled for next week. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week.

But the Republican-led House could pose a challenge for passage, as some members don’t agree that a path to citizenship for those who came to the country illegally should be part of the package.

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, recently said he believes strongly that providing a path to citizenship is not the right policy.

“The people that came here illegally, knowingly, I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship,” Labrador said in an interview this week with National Public Radio. “If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty. I think we should normalize your status, but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship.

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