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Obama on Immigration

Specific Policy Positions

Border security

Supports providing more personnel, physical barriers, technology, and real-time intelligence along U.S. borders and at ports of entry.


Legalization/path to citizenship Would require illegal immigrants with clean criminal records who want to become citizens to pay a fine and back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line behind immigrants who came into this country legally. He would not require the borders to be secured before illegal immigrants could seek citizenship. Obama would also increase the number of legal immigrants.

Legal immigration Supports the current system of giving preference to family members of U.S. citizens and legal residents in allocating green cards, and opposes moving to a merit-based point system that would favor potential immigrants with higher education levels or job skills. He is open, however, to experimenting with a point system for skills and education that does not reduce the number of family visas now available.

Guest-worker program Supports the creation of a new guest-worker program to meet employers' needs for temporary workers. Stipulates that the program must contain protections against driving down American workers' wages and must provide temporary workers with labor rights and give those who meet certain criteria the opportunity to eventually become citizens.


Employer sanctions Would require all employers to use a new electronic system to verify whether newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States and would allow the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Homeland Security Department to share information about eligibility. He would impose stiff penalties on employers who knowingly hire or exploit illegal workers.

Key Advisers

Obama relies on a mix of Washington-based and outside-the-Beltway advisers. Former Clinton administration official Federico Pena, who served as both Transportation and Energy secretary, is a leading liaison to the Hispanic community. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a national campaign co-chair, brings her strong record of bridging partisan differences on immigration. Obama's top policy counsel is Stanford Law School professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar. In Congress, Obama relies on a fellow Illinoisan, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus's efforts on immigration reform.


Employment verification: Offered amend-ments to last year's bill to enhance the privacy and anti-discrimination protections of the proposed mandatory employment verification system, and to strengthen the requirement that employers first offer temporary jobs to U.S. workers at prevailing wages.

Visa allocation: Offered floor amendments to sunset after five years the point system for allocating the majority of green cards based on education and work skills, and to give greater weight to family reunification.


DREAM Act: Co-sponsored and voted for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act to provide a path to citizenship for college students and military members who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Backed a similar Illinois state bill targeted to college students.

Border fence: Voted for the Secure Fence Act in 2006 to beef up barriers, including 700 miles of fencing, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Driver's licenses: Voted in 2003 for state legislation allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for a driver's license if they passed a driving test, paid taxes, and bought car insurance.

Key Interest Groups

National Association of Home Builders: The group considers McCain the more pro-business candidate. But it supported Obama's amendment to make the worker verification system for employers easier to use, although most other business groups did not.

National Council of La Raza: The nation's top Hispanic advocacy group cannot formally endorse candidates, but its positions on immigration clearly line up with Obama's.

Service Employees International Union: The 2 million-member union endorsed Obama early and plans to spend $80 million on an aggressive organizing effort for the fall elections.

AFL-CIO: The trade federation led labor's opposition to last year's immigration bill. Obama backed the bill but offered amendments to make it more worker-friendly. The AFL-CIO planned to endorse Obama this week.

This article appears in the June 28, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.

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