President Obama on Tuesday placed the onus on House Republicans to ensure immigration reform becomes law this year.
Obama delivered a speech designed to keep supporters of immigration reform energized amid talk in Washington that their signature issue has little chance of passing this year, if at all. House Republicans control the destiny of an immigration overhaul, the president said.
“Now it's up to Republicans in the House to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not,” Obama told reform advocates assembled in the East Room of the White House.
The president noted that the Senate passed a broad, bipartisan overhaul earlier this year, and that diverse groups like business, labor and religious clergy back immigration reform that would offer undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
“This reform comes as close to anything we've got to a law that will benefit everybody now and far into the future,” Obama said. “Let's see if we can get this done and let's see if we can get it done this year.”
But the House has dragged out immigration reform for months and skepticism abounds that leaders can finesse an immigration bill through the fractious body.
Many conservative and Tea Party-backed members strongly oppose any immigration bill, saying they do not support a path to citizenship and do not trust Obama to negotiate in good faith.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not bring an immigration bill to the floor if the majority of his conference does not support it. But he indicated this week the House could still get something done.
"I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed,” Boehner said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “And I'm hopeful.”
Republicans have voiced concern that Democrats are reviving immigration only to use it as a political wedge issue in the 2014 midterm elections. The president won over seven in ten Latino votes during his reelection campaign last year, in large part because he tagged his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, as an extremist on immigration.
There’s also lingering mistrust between Obama and Republicans from the government shutdown and debt-ceiling fights.
“I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what's happened here,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped broker the Senate’s bipartisan bill, said on Fox News Sunday.
Obama sought to allay those concerns during his speech, saying that many Republicans have supported immigration reform, including 14 sitting Republicans senators and former President George W. Bush.
“I know that there's some folks in this town who are primed to think, well, if Obama's for it, then I’m against it,” the president said. “I'm not running for office again; I just believe this is the right thing to do.”
But the pressure isn't only on Republicans. Obama has come under fire from some immigrant-rights groups who want him to relax his administration's deportation policies, which has resulted in nearly 400,000 deportations per year. Obama has been reluctant to unilaterally suspend deportations amid fears that could anger Republicans who are needed to pass an immigration bill through Congress.
"The president must lead through actions and not just words on immigration," Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement. "He must show that he will no longer concede to obstructionists, and he must turn his back on his own policies that have earned him the title Deporter-in-Chief."
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.