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Obama Hoping Immigration Debate Takes Backseat To Gun Fight?

02/07/2013 06:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2013

The president and Republicans are looking to move forward with an immigration debate that may not be as divisive as once thought.

Recently, President Barack Obama has looked to apply pressure on Republicans on issues ranging from gun control to tax rates.

Not even two months into his second term and the president is looking to tackle the issue of illegal immigration and amnesty -- an issue Republicans may want to tread lightly due to a lack of support from Latino voters last election.

The president will bring this issue to the forefront of the nation's consciousness in his February 12th State of the Union address, quieting some of the president's criticism from the right who argued that President Obama only reached out to Latinos before the November election to get reelected.

Obama's plan involves granting 11 million illegal immigrants a route for amnesty. Monetary penalties for illegal immigrants and criminal background checks, which would make it more difficult for those charged with heinous crimes to become citizens, are among some of the president's ideas for reform.

Republicans want to take a slower approach, which includes deferring citizenship until they have established that the southern border is more secure.

While the Republicans have placed a large amount of their political energy into the gun debate, this push for immigration reform may prove to be smart politics for the president and his supporters.

Obama may have the leverage to pass comprehensive immigration reform due to what is at stake in an economy with a 7.9 percent unemployment rate and a still sluggish economy.

According to a Reuters article, more economists are finding that immigration reform may lead to increases in demand and productivity while being a catalyst for innovation and pushing down prices.

Even the language behind House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sounds positive for immigration reform proponents. In a speech on Tuesday to the conservative group American Enterprise Institute, Cantor said,

"We must balance respect for the rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally, with care for people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life and contribute to America."

This is a stark difference from what top Republicans were saying during Obama's first term when much of the debate centered around deportation and criminalization of illegal immigrants.

The president's congressional allies have a good chance to receive funding from lobbyists that favored Republicans last election cycle like the Chamber of Congress because trade associations like the National Restaurant Association, the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association think they would benefit economically from comprehensive immigration reform.

K Street has already started proposing legislature that they say would benefit certain industries with the potential swell in the number of workers entering the workforce if some sort of bipartisan bill is passed.

According to TheHill.com, some of the industries already lobbying Congress (eight Senate members in particular) are Silicon Valley, agriculture, restaurant and hospitality and LGBTQ groups who want legislature to cover amnesty for LGBTQ illegal immigrants who marry their partners, which is something President Obama supports.

Unions and civil rights groups are also getting involved in the immigration debate as some employee abuse by smaller businesses towards undocumented workers has led to these groups to call for fair labor practices, increasing their voice in an already crowded policy debate.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, at least one super PAC has been formed under the immigration debate known as The Restore Our Future super PAC, which raised $153 million -- the most for any super PAC in 2012.

According to TheHill.com, senior vice president of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council, Robert Hoffman, said,

"Given everything we have seen, this year presents the best opportunities since 2007 to get the kind of reforms we need for our economy. It's already being incredibly lobbied."

This lobbying is creating a lot of problems for the Democrats who are running the risk of pulling the party apart the party's main union donors as reported by the Sunlight Foundation. Many union members like SEIU and UNITE comprise immigrants, while other unions have members who feel they may lose their job to cheaper labor.

Despite the intra-party divide this policy is bound to create, the immigration debate looks too promising for too many business interests in a still sluggish economy.