WASHINGTON— President Barack Obama has begun a week-long vacation, and the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court are idle. Washington may be unusually quiet this week, but major demonstrations are expected in multiple states on immigration reform - one of the most hotly contested issues facing the nation.
The President and First Lady Michelle Obama had a more casual look as they arrived at a Massachusetts island resort town.
Meanwhile, members of Congress are in their home districts, where they face intense pressure on immigration reform from a broad range of activists. Some are demanding a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“There are people here who just want to live this American dream that you live every day that some of us are not so lucky to see," said demonstrator Miguel Porfirio.
Others are telling lawmakers to focus on stemming illegal immigration once and for all. “Just trying to reinforce that we want the borders secure without blanket amnesty [for the undocumented]," said Terry Moench.
A Senate-approved bill that would boost enforcement and provide a path to citizenship faces significant opposition in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Before departing on vacation, President Obama urged lawmakers to find consensus. “I would urge, when they get back [from recess], to do something - put forward a bill that has an opportunity to actually pass. Our economy would be $1 trillion stronger if we got immigration reform done," he said.
Obama also promised to work with Congress to address privacy concerns about the federal government’s vast data collection capabilities that were exposed by fugitive former National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. “It is right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives," he said.
Lawmakers of both parties have crafted NSA reform proposals. Democratic Senator Mark Udall said, “My bill, which I want to push as hard as I possibly can, would limit the ways in which the intelligence community accesses average Americans’ - innocent Americans’ - phone records. That is the way to go forward.”
But the president and many members of Congress stress that America must retain a robust intelligence-gathering ability, as evidenced by last week’s terror alert that prompted a global travel warning and the closing of numerous U.S. diplomatic outposts.