WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, facing criticism from advocates of immigration reform, pledged Thursday "to do everything in my power" to get immigration legislation moving in Congress this year.
Obama said work on an immigration bill should move forward based on an outline released Thursday by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
"A critical next step will be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity," Obama said.
The outline calls for illegal immigrants to admit they broke the law, pay a fine and back taxes, and perform community service if they want to get on a pathway to legal status. They would also be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English.
"I congratulate Sens. Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said.
Obama's statement and the senators' outline were timed for release before a march and rally Sunday that is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Washington to press the administration and Congress for immigration reform.
Immigrants and their supporters have grown frustrated as the Obama administration has continued to detain and deport immigrants while immigration reform remains dormant. Obama had promised to make it a top priority in his first year in office.
Hoping to temper the percolating discontent, Obama held two separate meetings last week with grass-roots immigration leaders as well as Schumer and Graham. The president assured the leaders at the meeting that he remains committed to reform.
Obama met Thursday at the White House with Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, the sponsors of a House immigration bill. Gutierrez said later he agreed to vote for Obama's signature domestic bill, health care reform, only if an immigration bill advanced quickly and with a presidential imprimatur. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also endorsed the health care bill.
"I'm committed to voting for this health care bill on that basis," Gutierrez said. "I want the president to be in lockstep with us, which I believe he was during the campaign."
White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said there was no quid pro quo involved in the White House's dealings with Gutierrez.
"Congressman Gutierrez is a longtime leader of the reform effort on the Hill, so of course they've had many conversations about it, and they'll continue to," Cherlin said.
Other parts of the Schumer-Graham outline include:
_Giving legal permanent residence to people who graduate with doctoral or master's degrees from U.S. universities.
_Adopting zero tolerance for illegal immigrants who commit crimes and expanding enforcement of immigration laws.
_Creating a flexible legal immigration system that brings in more low-skilled workers when jobs are available and fewer in a recession.
_Requiring all U.S. workers — citizens and legal immigrants — to get fraud-proof Social Security cards with a biometric identifier.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Charles Babington contributed to this report.
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