* Legislative package soon after inauguration-Obama
* Seize the moment, president urges
By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON, Nov 14 Emboldened by the large
turnout of Hispanic voters in last week's general election, U.S.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday he plans to move quickly
to address what he has called the biggest failure of his first
term - comprehensive immigration reform.
"Before the election, I had given a couple of interviews
where I predicted that the Latino vote was going to be strong
and that that would cause some reflection on the part of
Republicans about their position on immigration reform. I think
we're starting to see that already," Obama said at his first
press conference since winning re-election.
"And my expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we
begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration,"
The U.S. presidential inauguration is in January, and Obama,
a Democrat, said his staff and members of Congress are already
beginning to have conversations "about what this would look
like." He added that he is "very confident that we can get
immigration reform done."
A legislative package would include strengthening border
security, penalties for employers that hire undocumented
workers, and an avenue for the millions of illegal immigrants
already in the United States to gain citizenship, he said.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there were 11.2 million
unauthorized immigrants in the country in 2010.
In a frank moment during the campaign, Obama told Univision,
the Spanish-language television network, that "my biggest
failure so far is we haven't gotten comprehensive immigration
Stymied by Congress in his attempts to address immigration,
Obama issued an order in June allowing hundreds of thousands of
illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to
avoid deportation and obtain work permits. It was based on
stalled legislation known as the "DREAM Act."
Obama also said he would like Congress to put that order
into law soon.
HISPANIC VOTERS' SUPPORT
Obama won an estimated 66 percent of the Hispanic vote in
last Tuesday's presidential election, according to Reuters/Ipsos
election-day polling, at a time when the Latino population is
growing rapidly in states such as Florida, a perpetual
battleground in U.S. politics.
Those results have pushed Republicans to reconsider how to
work with this emerging influential bloc. There are an estimated
24 million eligible Hispanic voters in the United States and Pew
expects that number to nearly double to 40 million by 2030.
John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of
Representatives, said last week that the country's immigration
system was broken, although he did not offer solutions and said
Obama had to take the lead.
Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan said
on Wednesday there is a window of opportunity for the United
States and Mexico to work together on comprehensive immigration
reform in 2013 and 2014.
"I think a lot of work has been done these past years to
recobble the coalition of the private sector, of NGOs, of
unions, of employers to come together and - if the time is ready
- to try and put together a package that will have the ability
to be sold not only to Congress but to the American public," he
told the Inter-American Dialogue, a foreign policy think tank
focused on the Western Hemisphere.
Immigration reform had in the past enjoyed bipartisan
support, with former Republican President George W. Bush and
Republican Senator John McCain both leading voices on the issue.
But Republicans in the Senate in the last few years have blocked
legislation over concerns about border security.
"This has not historically been a partisan issue," Obama
said on Wednesday. "So, we need to seize the moment."