CAPITOL HILL— Thursday, President Barack Obama urged a renewed bipartisan commitment to confront the nation’s challenges, and signaled he will press Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Earlier this year, the Senate approved an overhaul of America’s often-criticized immigration system. The bill would strengthen U.S. border security and provide a long and arduous path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
But the initiative has languished in the Republican-led House of Representatives, where many members view legalization of the undocumented as amnesty for law-breakers.
Thursday, Obama said immigration reform remains a priority.
“We should finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system," he said. "The majority of Americans think this is the right thing to do. And it is sitting there waiting for the House to pass it.”
Despite Washington’s recent focus on fiscal matters, proponents of immigration reform have kept up efforts to rally public opinion and pressure lawmakers. Conventional wisdom holds that Congress must act this year if reform is to succeed, since lawmakers will shy from casting politically-charged votes before next year’s midterm elections.
Reform advocate Frank Sharry says time is of the essence. He said, “I think it is going to be critical that the House of Representatives begins to address this issue, has votes. I think it is critical that we see action this year."
Sharry adds that plenty of time remains on the House calendar between now and December, if Republican leaders choose to bring legislation forward.
Opponents of the Senate bill say it faces stiff opposition in the House of Representatives. The head of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian, says House lawmakers may consider something that falls short of full citizenship for the undocumented.
“They [House Republicans] would simply give those 11-million illegal immigrants work visas," he said." A work visa would make you legal, but you would not have any option to become a citizen.”
Immigration reform advocates, including Obama, reject any proposal that does not contain a path to citizenship. Even so, on Thursday Obama said an eventual House bill need not be identical to the Senate version.
“If the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let us hear them," he said. "Let us start the negotiations.”
After the president spoke, House Democrats issued a statement echoing his call for action.
But Mark Krikorian says the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate have different visions for immigration reform, and he doubts they can be reconciled.
“The House is going to pass some targeted bills, and they are not going to be able to agree with the Senate on a common bill that they would send to the White House, and so nothing is going to end up on the president’s desk,” he said.
If immigration reform fails this year, Krikorian says the outcome of next year’s congressional elections will determine the initiative’s chances in 2015.