With the Senate voting Tuesday afternoon to begin consideration of its immigration overhaul measure, President Barack Obama pushed Congress to send him a bill to sign into law by the end of the summer and not miss an opportunity to deal with a problem that has festered for decades.
“There is no reason Congress can’t get this done by the end of the summer,” Obama said during an appearance in the East Room of the White House with advocates for an overhaul that would legalize 11 million immigrants. One of those advocates who spoke before Obama would be eligible for DREAM Act provisions for immigrants brought here as children.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, in an interview with ABC News this morning, said he hoped a bill would be reported out of committee in the House this month and said he wanted a bill to the president’s desk “this year,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned on the Senate floor that “major changes” were needed to the bill there to get his support.
Just a few hours later, the Office of Management and Budget released a Statement of Administration Policy that noted the administration “strongly supports” the bipartisan Senate bill. “Fixing the Nation’s broken immigration system is an economic, national security, and moral imperative,” it said.
Obama spoke forcefully about the border security provisions in the bipartisan Senate bill — given that it is a principal focus of Republican angst.
“This bill would be the biggest commitment to border security in our nation’s history,” Obama declared. He also noted that the number of border security agents has doubled since 2004 and that there are more boots on the ground on the border now than at any time in the nation’s history.
Obama said that has contributed to a reduced flow of illegal immigrants across the border, but said the system remains “broken,” with employers who employ illegal immigrants able to undercut those who don’t and hurt U.S. workers.
The bill would crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and put in place a system where all employees would be checked for their status.
In turn, Obama said, the 11 million here illegally need a pathway to “earned” citizenship, albeit one that would take at least 13 years, require they earn English, pass a background check and pay taxes and a fine.
“That pathway is arduous,” he said. “This is no cakewalk.”
But, he said, people need a sense of certainty that on the horizon, “there’s the opportunity to be part of this American family.”
McConnell said he will vote to debate the immigration bill but will demand amendments to fix “serious flaws” in various issues. “These include, but are not limited to, the areas of border security, government benefits and taxes,” he said.
The Senate is set to take a procedural vote to begin debate on the measure this afternoon.
One area of concern McConnell noted was discretion given to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to develop and deploy a border security and fencing plan.
“I’m going to need more than an assurance from Secretary Napolitano, for instance, that the border is secure to feel comfortable about the situation on the border,” McConnell said.
Some Republicans — including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who helped draft the bill — have charged that after years of what they say is a failure to satisfactorily secure the border that the agency may not be up to the task. They may offer amendments to take discretion away from DHS.
“Too often recently, we have been reminded that as government grows it becomes less responsible to the American people, and fails to perform basic functions either through incompetence or willful disregard of the wishes of Congress,” McConnell said. “Our continued failure to secure major portions of the border not only makes true immigration reform far more difficult; it presents an urgent threat to national security.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to pass the bill by the beginning of the Independence Day recess at the beginning of next month.
McConnell said he agrees that the current system is flawed and that the debate is one that needs to be held, but he stressed that success is far from guaranteed.
“We tried to do something six years ago, and didn’t succeed,” McConnell said. “We may not succeed this time either. But attempting to solve tough problems in a serious and deliberate manner is precisely what the Senate, at its best, should do. And it’s what we’re going to try to do in this debate.”
Boehner, for his part, also wants changes to the Senate bill, but declined in the ABC interview to rule out a pathway to citizenship opposed by many in his conference, or passing a bill primarily with Democratic votes.
Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.