CAPITOL HILL— President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives are pushing for the Republican majority to allow a vote on reforming the U.S. immigration system. The Senate passed an immigration reform bill with bipartisan support in June. But congressional aides and political experts say the Republican Party is still divided over immigration, and the House is not likely to tackle the issue any time soon.
Fixing the broken U.S. immigration system is one of President Obama's top priorities.
Surrounded by pro-immigration activists, he called on the House to act.
"And whether you are a Republican, or a Democrat or an Independent, I want you to keep working and I am going to be right next to you to make sure we get immigration reform done," he said.
Democratic leaders in Congress also gathered, calling on House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, to bring a bill to the floor.
“So my question is, Speaker Boehner, what are you waiting for?" asked Democratic representative Linda Sanchez. "The American people have spoken, they are ready for comprehensive immigration reform, let’s have a vote!”
Speaker Boehner was cautious when asked if he thinks a vote is possible this year.
“I still think immigration reform is important. It’s a subject that needs to be addressed, and I am hopeful,” he said.
The Senate bill gives preference to an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally over security on the U.S. border with Mexico, some Republicans say. Some oppose any bill that would legalize those who entered the country illegally. Immigration expert Audrey Singer says the House will not take up the Senate's bill.
"The Senate passed something comprehensive, which had many, many elements of reform in one complete bill. The House and Speaker Boehner have said they are not going that route, that they are looking at discrete bills that discuss discrete issues," said Singer.
While pushing Congress to act, the president voiced pessimism.
"Now, obviously, just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor - and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is Washington, after all," he said.
After the bruising fight over the president's health care law and a government shutdown that hurt Republicans' standing, some analysts and congressional aides have said they doubt the House will take action on immigration this year. And next year, with mid-term congressional elections, lawmakers may be determined to avoid divisive issues like immigration.