Now that the bitter political fighting over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling has ended, President Barack Obama said Thursday next on the agenda for Congress is passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“The majority of Americans think this is the right thing to do, and it’s sitting there waiting for the House to pass it,” the president said Thursday from the White House. “Now, if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear them. Let’s start the negotiations. But let’s not leave this problem to keep festering for another year, or two years, or three years.”
“This can and should get done by the end of this year,” he added.
Obama’s remarks came two days after he told Univision’s Los Angeles affiliate that he would encourage House members to “call a vote on immigration reform” the “day after” Congress approved a deal to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) echoed the president’s message on the Senate floor Wednesday night, after the vote on the Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling:
“I look forward to the next venture, which is making sure we do immigration reform.”
Gutierrez: We still have a chance to pass immigration reform
Efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship have stalled in recent weeks, as Congress addresses other issues.
The Senate passed a broad immigration reform bill in June. But Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote because it is unlikely to receive the support of the majority of House Republicans.
Instead of supporting a broad immigration reform bill, House Republicans say they want to pass a series of bills that fix different parts of the nation’s broken immigration system. So far, the House Judiciary Committee has approved several bills but none of them have been brought to the House floor for a vote.
And with little time left on this year’s calendar, some activists are losing hope that Congress will pass an immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship this year. As a result, they’ve been trying to build momentum for a campaign aimed at pressuring Obama to halt deportations.
But Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a long-time immigration reform supporter, said in a statement Wednesday he believes “there is still an opportunity this term, this year to pass sensible immigration reform.”
Gutierrez admitted that these days in Congress, it’s difficult to get anything done with bipartisan support. However, he insisted:
“Immigration reform remains the one issue popular with both Democratic and Republican voters on which the two parties can work together to deliver real, substantive solutions in the Congress this year.”
Immigration reform is ‘a priority’ for House GOP leaders
Some Republicans are also optimistic about the chances of approving legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, told Univision’s “Al Punto” earlier this month that she is “still hopeful” about the prospects of approving immigration reform legislation this year.
“The Speaker over the last few weeks has continued to talk about the importance of the House moving forward on immigration reform,” she said. “I believe that we have a window here between now and the end of the year and that this is a priority.”
“We must pass immigration reform,” she added.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is among the handful of House Republicans who have long supported immigration reform. He was part of a bipartisan group that, before collapsing a few weeks ago, was crafting legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Most recently, he has been working with a few Republicans to craft a bill that would increase border security and allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to the daily newspaper, Balart is hopeful about the bill’s prospects.
“There’s a lot of folks here who have been working and feel cautiously optimistic,” Diaz-Balart said of the immigration effort in the House, following the vote on the Senate deal Wednesday night.
Labrador: Immigration reform ‘not going to happen this year’
But not all Republicans are optimistic about the prospects of immigration reform.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who was once a member of the bipartisan group with Balart, now doubts any immigration bills will pass in the House.
“It’s not going to happen this year,” Labrador said Wednesday night on the House floor. “After the way the president acted over the last two or three weeks where he would refuse to talk to the speaker of the House … they’re not going to get immigration reform. It’s done.”
At a gathering of conservatives on Wednesday, Labrador also said it would be “crazy” and “a very big mistake” for the House Republican leadership to negotiate with Obama on immigration reform.
Labrador’s comments offer little hope for bipartisan collaboration on an immigration reform bill Democrats introduced earlier this month. As of Thursday, all of the bill’s 183 sponsors were Democrats and none were Republicans, something that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is hoping will change.
“The time is now for House Republicans to stand up and join House Democrats to enact comprehensive immigration reform that upholds our basic principles: to secure our borders, protect our workers, unite families, and offer hardworking immigrants an earned pathway to citizenship,” CHC members stated Thursday.