WASHINGTON — As soon as the confrontation over fiscal policy winds down, the Obama administration will begin an all-out drive for comprehensive immigration reform, including seeking a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, according to officials briefed on the plans.
While key tactical decisions are still being made, President Barack Obama wants a catch-all bill that would also bolster border security measures, ratchet up penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, and make it easier to bring in foreign workers under special visas, among other elements.
Senior White House advisers plan to launch a social media blitz in January and expect to tap the same organizations and unions that helped get a record number of Hispanic voters to re-elect the president.
Cabinet secretaries are preparing to make the case for how changes in immigration laws could benefit businesses, education, health care and public safety. Congressional committees could hold hearings on immigration legislation as soon as late January or early February.
"The president can't guarantee us the outcome, but he can guarantee us the fight," said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers. "We expect a strong fight."
The focus comes amid new analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center that shows illegal immigration is down and enforcement levels are at an all-time high.
Democratic strategists believe there is only a narrow window at the beginning of the year to get an initiative launched in Congress, before lawmakers begin to turn their attention to the next election cycle and are less likely to take a risky vote on a controversial bill.
"It's going to be early," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration for the National Council of La Raza. "We are seeing it being organized to be ready."
The White House declined to discuss its possible strategy while still embroiled in the year-end battle over taxes and spending cuts.
But Republicans, including some who are in favor of immigration change, are pushing a go-slow approach. Rather than working on one comprehensive bill, Congress should pass a series of bills that help foreign entrepreneurs, technology workers, agricultural workers and those who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children, said Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the highest-profile Latino Republican politician.
Small parts of the immigration issue should be tackled before addressing how to create a pathway to legal status for most illegal immigrants in the U.S., Rubio said Wednesday.