Obama Immigration Plan: More Direct Path to Citizenship Than Senate's

The president will announce his plan in Las Vegas, Nevada.

ByABC News
January 29, 2013, 9:29 AM

Jan. 29, 2013— -- President Barack Obama is expected to lay out his principles for immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas today that will include a potentially quicker path to citizenship than the bipartisan plan a group of senators unveiled earlier this week.

The president will offer some new details about the White House's immigration reform plan, which expands on a blueprint it released in 2011, a senior administration official told ABC News. But for now Obama will stop short of offering his own piece of legislation because of the progress made by the Senate "Gang of Eight."

See Also: Senate Wants Immigration Bill Passed in Months

The White House has sounded positive notes about the Senate group's plan thus far, but the specifics that Obama announces are expected to have some key differences that might cause concern for some Republican senators who have signed onto the senate deal.

Like the senators' plan, Obama's proposal calls for a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The senators' plan would grant "probationary legal status" immediately to eligible undocumented immigrants, but would not allow them to apply for permanent legal status, or a green card, until the border is deemed to be secure. Think of that as a trigger system.

On the other hand, administration officials told media outlets that they believe a path to citizenship needs to be more straightforward. They believe a trigger system, like the one in the senate plan, could lead to a state of legal limbo for the undocumented immigrants who receive legal status, The Washington Post reported.

The border-security-first plan, however, is essential to Republican senators who signed onto the Senate "Gang of Eight" deal.

"I will not be supporting any law that does not ensure that the enforcement things happen," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the group, told conservative blogger Ed Morrissey on his web radio show.

See Also: 3 Flashpoints in the Senate Immigration Blueprint

Obama's plan is likely to include language that would allow same-sex bi-national couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples, BuzzFeed and The Washington Post reported. Under current law, gays and lesbians who are married to U.S. citizens under state laws cannot obtain a green card. Obama's plan would allow them a path to citizenship, but the issue is not mentioned in the Senate "Gang of Eight" proposal.

As noted by the Post, that language may anger Christian groups who have signaled they would support comprehensive immigration reform.

But the White House remains optimistic about the progress that has been made so far. An official described the senators' announcement as a "breakthrough" to ABC News because it wasn't clear whether Republicans would sign on to any path to citizenship.

Some observers couched the Senate group's decision to come out with his plan a day before Obama as an attempt to outfox the White House politically. But administration officials told media outlets they remain generally pleased with the plan and believe that the president's speech could build momentum for a final bill.

Updated, 12:15 PM

The White House reiterated that the president was very encouraged by the Senate's proposal since it includes a pathway to citizenship that is endorsed by Republicans, who have previously opposed immigration reform that includes such a path.

"Our focus is that this is a positive development," White House spokesman Luis Miranda told ABC/Univision. "We feel very positive that there is a proposal in the first place and that it is consistent with what the president has supported in the past."

The White House clarified that it is withholding judgment on language in the Senate framework that requires a border security "trigger" to obtain a green card until actual legislative language is released by the senators.

"What we have said is that there needs to be a clear path to citizenship," said Miranda. "We'll wait to see what they flesh out."

ABC's Reena Ninan contributed reporting.