Vice President Joseph Biden will visit Atlanta on Thursday to promote an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, even as the prospects are dim for sweeping legislation in the Republican-controlled U.S. House.
Biden will speak at an afternoon naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on Auburn Avenue. The White House said he plans to emphasize the Obama administration’s commitment to finding a path to citizenship for the millions of people now living illegally in the U.S., a controversial sticking point in Congress.
Biden also will attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday evening at the Atlanta home of Michele and Kenneth Taylor, where attendees are donating up to $20,000.
In June, the Democratic-led Senate passed bipartisan immigration legislation that would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship. The bill would also tighten border security, overhaul the nation’s massively clogged legal immigration system and make it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers.
The House has refused to take up the Senate bill, partly because of the route to citizenship, and is instead considering smaller immigration bills. But none has been brought to the floor this year, and House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday repeated his opposition to going to a conference committee with the large Senate bill.
There were 425,000 immigrants living illegally in Georgia in 2010, according to an estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center. The national debate over creating a pathway to citizenship for them has sharply divided Georgians.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll from September shows 54 percent of Georgians would support a program giving them the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. Forty percent said they would oppose it. The rest didn’t know or did not answer the survey question.
The state’s congressional delegation leans heavily against the Senate bill. Both of the state’s Republican senators voted against the bill, and all nine of its Republican House members, plus centrist Democrat John Barrow of Augusta, have said they oppose a new path to citizenship. The other four Democrats in the delegation favor the bill.
Myriad activists from immigrant groups to businesses to religious leaders have advocated for an immigration overhaul this year.
“I am very glad that the vice president is coming to speak about the dire need for action by our House of Representatives for immigration reform,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “It is unconscionable that this work be left undone as we head into the holidays.”
Meanwhile, conservatives who oppose the plan say immigrants living illegally in Georgia are burdening the state’s hospitals and taxpayer-funded courts, jails and schools.
In 2011, Georgia followed Arizona’s lead and enacted stringent legislation aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of the state. State lawmakers passed additional measures to crack down on illegal immigration this year.
“The Biden visit indicates that Democrats are desperate for passing any amnesty bill granting citizenship to 12 million illegal aliens,” said Phil Kent, a member of Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board and the spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control.