President Barack Obama has conceded that an immigration overhaul cannot be achieved by his August deadline, and he insisted that any legislation must include a pathway to citizenship for the 11m people in the US illegally.
In a series of interviews with Spanish-language television stations, Obama said on Tuesday that he hoped an immigration bill could be completed later this year, though that may be overly optimistic.
Immigration is a rare top issue on the president’s agenda in which his fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans find common ground, but some more conservative Republicans object to anything they see as amnesty for people in the country illegally.
Obama disagreed. “It does not make sense to me, if we’re going to make this once-in-a-generation effort to finally fix this system, to leave the status of 11 million people or so unresolved,” he said during an interview with a Telemundo affiliate.
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Some Republicans view support for immigration reform as central to the party’s national viability given the growing political power of Hispanics, but the legislative prospects in Washington grow increasingly uncertain.
The president said the lack of consensus among Republicans in the House of Representatives will stretch the debate past August, his original deadline for a long-elusive overhaul of the nation’s tangled immigration laws.
Also on Tuesday, members of a bipartisan group of senators who wrote the Senate immigration bill met in the Capitol with advocates from business, religious, agriculture and other organisations to urge everyone to work together to move the issue through the House.
The senators distributed a list of 121 House Republicans seen as persuadable in favor of the bill and discussed honing a message for Congress’ August recess, when House members will meet with constituents and potentially encounter opposition to immigration legislation.
The bill passed by the Senate last month would tighten border security, expand the highly skilled worker program and set up new guest worker arrangements for lower-skilled workers and farm laborers.
It would also provide a pathway to citizenship for many immigrants living illegally in the US, one that includes paying fees, learning English and taking other steps.
House Republicans have balked at the Senate proposal, with leaders saying they prefer instead to tackle the issue in smaller increments.
The House is not expected to act on any legislation before the August recess.