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Obama claims immigration reform is "within grasp"

US President Barack Obama has launched a bid to reform the country’s "broken" immigration laws. Cross-party momentum is edging towards a resolution that could see millions of illegal immigrants gain citizenship.

US President Barack Obama arrives on stage to deliver remarks on immigration (Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Rede Obama Las Vegas Immigration

Obama spelt out his proposals on Tuesday evening, in the wake of a "political breakthrough" on immigration reform between Democrats and Republicans.

The president, speaking on a visit to a high school in Las Vegas, said that a resolution to the immigration question was "within our grasp."

"The question now is simple," he said. "Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government, to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do."

"I'm here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now. Now is the time."

Obama lauded the work of a group of senators, four from each party, who on Monday made public their own draft of possible legislation. He noted that his own immigration plan, unveiled in detail in 2011, contained many similarities to that of the so-called "Gang of Eight."

The senators' bipartisan framework provides for a "tough but fair" route to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the country illegally. "We recognize that our immigration system is broken," the senators said.

Changing demographics, changing stance

Republican delegates once opposed to immigration reform are seen as having softened their stance after poor polling in a Hispanic community of growing electoral significance. In November's presidential election, more than 70 percent of the Hispanic voters opted for Obama.

An estimated 11.5 million people are believed to be living in the US as undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico, Central America and South America.

Under both Obama's 2011 proposals and the new Senate plan, illegal immigrants would be offered the chance to attain permanent residency and citizenship. However, this would require them to pay back-taxes, learn English and be subject to background checks. Applicants would also have to demonstrate a knowledge of and familiarity with US culture.

There was also agreement on strengthening border controls and improving workplace checks to deter future illegal immigration. Meanwhile, barriers might be lifted for skilled workers wishing to settle in the US.

However, differences do appear to exist, with Obama's proposed track to citizenship expected to be speedier and less stringent than that of the chamber. Any package would also need to satisfy a Republican-led House of Representatives.

rc/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)