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Other business leaders — including entrepreneur and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist and businessman Howard G. Buffett, and AOL co-founder Steve Case — have also backed the president’s call for comprehensive reform.
In contrast, reaction on the Hill to the president’s call for legislation ranged from skepticism to disbelief.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the president should be focused on the debt ceiling and deficit debates under way instead of rehashing immigration.
“I don’t understand how it is the president is out talking about immigration today when we’ve got these issues just weighing on us,” the Virginia Republican said. “We’ve been down that road. I believe in turn we should do things that actually produce progress and results.”
Even House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer politely questioned whether passing a comprehensive bill is plausible.
“It may not be realistic, but I think the president is correct that the issue of immigration must be addressed,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), an outspoken member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who has visited 18 cities in recent weeks to pressure the White House for action on the issue, went a step further and called it “disingenuous” to suggest that the legislative process could be fruitful.
Gutierrez and immigrant rights advocates have said the administration should instead focus on what the White House can do without the help of a divided Congress, such as curb amplified efforts to deport illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) plans to reintroduce the DREAM Act on Wednesday. The bill, which would create a path to citizenship for students and members of the military, was sidelined in a procedural vote in the Senate in December.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the pro-reform National Immigration Forum, said the speech is only a start.
“At the end of the day, the president needs to take bold action and change the way he’s enforcing immigration law so that families are kept together,” he said.
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.