Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama rolls into Las Vegas on Tuesday, ready to double down on immigration reform.
After failing to press the issue during his first four years in office, he has made it a top legislative priority of his second term.
While the president will highlight immigration proposals in a speech at 2:55 p.m. ET, senior administration officials say, he will not introduce new legislation, at least not now.
Obama came under criticism from Latino activists for failing to deliver on a 2008 campaign promise to make immigration reform a priority of his first term.
Last year, as Obama’s re-election campaign heated up, his administration announced a halt to deportations of some young undocumented immigrants in a move that delighted the Latino community.
Exit polls in November indicated that Latino voters gave overwhelming support to Obama over GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who had advocated a policy that amounted to forcing undocumented immigrants to deport themselves.
While in Nevada, Obama will press for quick action on immigration reform and share more details about his immigration proposal, which includes a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Senate lays out blueprint
Obama heads west a day after a bipartisan group of eight senators laid out their blueprint for immigration reform.
The White House may consider introducing its own legislation should the Senate plan fall apart, administration officials said.
Under the compromise plan by the senators, known as the “gang of eight,” millions of undocumented immigrants would get immediate but provisional status to live and work in the United States.
The Democratic sources say the president will praise the Senate for the bipartisan blueprint outlined Monday, while stressing that the issue must not get bogged down in the kind of political fights that derailed past bipartisan policy battles. According to sources, he will say there have been bipartisan “gangs” before, and they don’t always lead to results.
The senators’ outline also called for strengthening border controls, improved monitoring of visitors and cracking down on hiring undocumented workers.
Only after those steps occurred could the undocumented immigrants already in the country begin the process of getting permanent residence — green cards — as a step toward citizenship, the senators said at a news conference.
Conservatives split on reform
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a tea party-backed conservative considered a rising star in the Republican Party, said the goal was to create a “modern immigration system” that treated everyone fairly, both the undocumented and those waiting to come to America legally.
“None of this is possible if we don’t address the reality there are 11 million people in this country who are undocumented,” Rubio said.
However, another tea party-backed Republican, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, objected to the framework by his colleagues, saying the guidelines “contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to undocumented immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country.”
Other conservatives immediately voiced their opposition to what they called amnesty, a code word on the political right for providing undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.
“When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who serves on the immigration subcommittee in the House. “By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”
A litany of left-leaning advocacy groups spoke out on the senators’ plan, praising it as a good first step but cautioning against harming the rights of workers.
“The people of this country are ready for us to be one country again without second-class people being mistreated simply because they lack paper, even though they are already contributing to our economy and our tax system,” NAACP President Ben Jealous said.
Democratic senators backing the plan include Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado. On the Republican side were Rubio, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Durbin said Tuesday that immigration reform must have bipartisan support to work, so it won’t include everything everyone wants.
“It’s going to look different than what I might write, or the president might write,” he said.
House works on own plan
A similar effort on immigration is said to be under way in the House, involving a group of Republicans and Democrats.
Two senior House Democratic sources briefed on the effort told CNN the group was working to release some sort of outline of its plan soon, possibly as early as this week, but concede “they are not as far along as the Senate.”
Like the Senate framework, the House plan will include a path to citizenship, but details of how that will work are still being discussed.
The Senate proposal is a good starting point, Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Florida, said Tuesday on CNN.
“I think it puts us in a very good place,” he said.