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Speaking in Las Vegas today, President Barack Obama laid out an immigration reform plan that would make illegal aliens eligible for provisional legal status and green cards without the additional enforcement triggers proposed by the Gang of Eight Senators. The president said his Administration has already patched up “some of the worst cracks in the system,” so now is the time for “common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.” But The Washington Times reports illegal immigration is increasing again despite Administration efforts. 

The triggers the president opposes are a critical element of the deal struck among the Gang of Eight Senators. The participating Republican senators accepted citizenship for illegal aliens in exchange for preconditions, including the adoption of systems for checking workplace eligibility and visa overstays. By rejecting triggers, the president may make it more difficult for the Senators to hold their coalition together.

Republican critics of the Gang of Eight plan, such as Sen. Jeff Session of Alabama, have said that the deal would cause “instant legalization” irrespective of whether illegal aliens are given citizenship, and that the Obama Administration cannot be counted on to implement the trigger-based enforcement measures. By rejecting more enforcement, the president makes it harder for fence-sitting Republicans and Democrats to vote for legalization and citizenship.

Some in the media have suggested the Gang of Eight upstaged the president’s planned Las Vegas remarks knowing that he would undermine their deal. Insiders say the White House had intended to propose a much more specific plan. That all changed after the announcement yesterday. The president’s speech welcomed the Senators’ involvement and outlined broad principles, but warned that he would send Congress a bill if legislators cannot agree on language.

"The good news is that — for the first time in many years — Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together,” Obama said. “Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. And yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that’s very encouraging.”

The president's speech laid out three principles for reform:

  • Continued focus on enforcement, including border security and implementation of a national system that allows businesses to verify employment status;
  • A “pathway to citizenship…that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line;” and
  • Bringing the “legal immigration system into the 21st century” by reducing wait times for family members and giving green cards to foreign students who receive master’s degrees or doctorates from American universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Critics of legalization have long warned that insufficient immigration enforcement would produce more illegal crossings as the economy improved. The Washington Times reports the uptick has already started.

The Border Patrol made 356,873 arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2012, a nine percent increase over 2011. Border Patrol officials suggest that apprehensions are a good measure for the rate of illegal crossings, so the increased number of apprehensions indicate an increased flow. That trend could continue now that Congress is considering legalization plans.

Read a comparison of the two plans in the Washington Post and The Washington Times article on illegal crossings.

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