Immigration reform advocates, including a leading voice from Maryland, pressed President Obama on Tuesday for a pathway to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, calling a bipartisan proposal under consideration in the U.S. Senate "unfair and not acceptable."
A group of eight senators -- including four Republicans and four Democrats -- unveiled the broad outlines of a plan last month that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain permanent residency and eventual citizenship only after tougher border restrictions are in place, a requirement for many Republicans.
A bipartisan group of House members is scrambling to draft a plan of its own.
Following years of inaction on the issue, momentum is building on Capitol Hill for immigration reform after Hispanic voters proved critical to Democrats in states like Colorado and Nevada. In an address Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said it is time for Congress to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country as children -- an idea he opposed in 2010.
But Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, was one of several immigration advocates who told Obama Tuesday that the Senate proposal doesn't provide a clear enough pathway for immigrants.
"Immigration reform must be based on a principle that people who have lived here, raised families here, and contributed to our economy through hard work are able to become citizens -- all 11 million," Torres said in a statement. "Requiring families to wait for the full implementation of E-Verify and militarization of the U.S. border with unmanned drones is unfair and not acceptable."
Despite a push on the issue from both the bipartisan group of senators and Obama, prospects for a sweeping overhaul remains uncertain. Several conservative lawmakers, particularly in the House, have raised concerns about the Senate measure. Congress is also likely to have its hands full in coming months with fiscal issues.
Steve Case, who also attended the White House meeting Tuesday, said in a statement that he is "encouraged" by the administration's efforts on the issue. The America Online co-founder said he supports changing immigration laws to "attract and retain the world's most talented innovators and entrepreneurs, as they have been and will continue to be critical contributors to our nation's economic success."
White House spokesman Jay Carney wouldn't say Tuesday whether the administration agreed with the groups that a pathway to citizenship should not be contingent upon increased border security.
"I'm not going to prejudge and [the president is] not going to prejudge what the Senate comes up with in this bipartisan effort to produce comprehensive immigration reform," Carney said. "What is clear is that the president's commitment to border security has been amply demonstrated and is backed up by hard, cold facts."