Obama pushes immigration reform deadline as Congress signals progress
Ewen MacAskill in Washington (Guardian): Barack Obama put pressure on Congress on Monday to introduce an immigration reform bill by April, saying the “time has come to fix once and for all” the broken system.
Speaking at the White House at a naturalisation ceremony for 28 people, Obama indicated that he wanted to stick to the timetable he outlined in his inaugural address in January.
Members of Congress directly involved in discussions had been reporting better-than-expected progress over the last few weeks but by the end of last week admitted they had been unable to resolve outstanding differences before breaking for the Easter holiday.
Senators expressed hope that they could have a bill ready within two weeks of their return. Hopes of a deal have been raised by the support coming from Republican senators such as Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
Speaking on Monday, Obama said: “We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken, that we’re not doing enough to harness the talent and ingenuity of all those who want to work hard and find a place in America. And after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and all. The time has come for comprehensive, sensible immigration reform.”
He added: “We are making progress, but we’ve got to finish the job, because this issue is not new. Everyone pretty much knows what’s broken, everyone knows how to fix it … So I expect a bill to be put forward. I expect the debate to begin next month. I want to sign that bill into law as soon as possible.”
Immigration reform is among the key issues Obama wants to see addressed in his second term. Given the importance of the Latino vote to Obama’s victory in November, the Republicans are more inclined to move on immigration reform than they are on other issues, such as gun laws.
Bipartisan groups in the Senate and the House are working on different versions of immigration reform. The Senate version broadly accepts the idea that reform should contain a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the US, but there remains resistance to this among House Republicans, reluctant to reward undocumented workers that entered the US illegally.
Obama, making the case for immigration reform, said: “The point is that unless you are one of the first Americans, unless you are a Native American, you came from someplace else. That’s why we’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants. And we’ve always been better off for it.”
He reiterated that he regarded reform as tackling the legal immigration system so that families do not have wait years to join someone already in the country and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers that includes a background check, learning English, paying taxes, including a penalty, and going to the back of the queue behind everyone trying to get to the US legally.