After "fiscal cliff", immigration next priority for Obama

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: U.S. citizenship candidate Martin Jaurequi, 1, is held by his father Hector as he takes the oath of citizenship with his mother Michelle Cuesta during a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Central Library on September 19, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. In recognition of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, fifty local children participated in the citizenship ceremony as part of over 32,000 new citizens being welcomed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from September 14 to September 22. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
CBS News

Comprehensive immigration reform will top President Obama's to-do list following his inauguration next month, the Los Angeles Times reports, with the administration's hope that a law can be passed before politics of the 2014 and 2016 elections begin to harden party lines.

The initiative - which will include a "social media blitz" - would seek, among other things, a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, strengthened border security, an easier means of bringing in foreign workers under special visas, and stricter penalties for employers who hire illegals, according to the Times. Cabinet secretaries will push the reform's benefits to business, education, health care, and public safety.

One of the biggest criticisms lobbed at the president during his first term by his 2008 supporters was the lack of movement on his immigration promises, including the DREAM Act, which would increase border security while also providing a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants. He was widely panned by both parties for using the issue as a political gimmick when he passed an executive order six months before the election, halting the deportation of children of illegal immigrants.

In September, the president was also called out by an interviewer during a Univision forum who accused the president of breaking a promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year as president. "A promise is a promise," said Univision's Jorge Ramos, "and with all due respect, but you didn't keep that promise."

Now, Mr. Obama is trying to make good on what he said he is "confident" can be done on the issue in his second term. With the window between campaign seasons growing increasingly smaller in recent years, Democratic strategists know they have to act fast; congressional hearings could begin as soon as late January.

One White House official emphasized to the Times that the administration is currently aiming all of its focus at averting the so-called "fiscal cliff," a series of potentially disastrous tax hikes and spending cuts set to go into effect Jan. 1. But the adviser did point to remarks the president made in a recent news conference, promising to dive into immigration immediately after his Jan. 21 inauguration.

Republicans and Democrats, though, still have a lot to hash out, including whether to implement immigration reform in one fell swoop, or through a series of laws. What also remains in question is whether the White House will send a draft of legislation to the Hill for markup, or leave the bill-writing to Congress. In 2010, a large bipartisan immigration initiative died before even reaching the floor of the Senate - something proponents of a new law hope to avoid this time around.

"The president can't guarantee us the outcome but he can guarantee us the fight," Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, told the Times. "We expect a strong fight."

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