(WASHINGTON) — President Obama expressed confidence on Wednesday that he would sign comprehensive immigration reform into law by the end of this year.
In an interview with Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas, Obama explained that significant details of a bill still must be worked out by lawmakers, including the structure of a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. But Obama said that the progress made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate has given him hope that a deal can get done.
When asked by Salinas if we will have immigration reform by the end of the year, Obama said, “I believe so.”
“You can tell our audience, ‘Sí, se puede?'” Salinas asked.
“Sí, se puede,” Obama responded.
Later in the interview, Obama said that he hopes a bill could be passed as early as this summer. But cognizant of deep divisions a topic like immigration has sewn in the past, Obama said that’s contingent on bipartisan negotiations continuing to proceed well.
“The only way this is going to get done is if the Republicans continue to work with Democrats in Congress, in both chambers, to get a bill to my desk,” he said. “And I’m going to keep on pushing as hard as I can. I believe that the mood is right.”
Although the president threatened during his speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday to introduce his own bill if negotiations in Congress stall, he said he is content to let lawmakers hash out the details among themselves for the time being.
“If they are on a path as they have already said, where they want to get a bill done by March, then I think that’s a reasonable timeline and I think we can get that done. I’m not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little room to debate,” Obama said. “If it slips a week, that’s one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that’s a problem.”
The president’s principles and the Senate’s principles on immigration broadly align with one another, but there are still thorny issues that could spark a division between Obama and Republicans, such as the pathway to citizenship.
The Senate’s path to citizenship would allow many undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status immediately upon passage of the law. But their ability to then seek legal permanent residency would be contingent upon the U.S.-Mexico border being deemed secure.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” on immigration, has been particularly vocal in stating that border security is a precondition for gaining legal permanent residence, and then citizenship.
While the White House has said that it is withholding judgment on that plan until actual legislative language is drafted, Obama said that he wants a bill that makes it clear from the outset that undocumented immigrants eligible to earn their way to citizenship can eventually obtain it.
“What we don’t want to do is create some kind of vague prospect in the future that somehow comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will happen, you know, mañana,” Obama said. “We want to make sure we are very clear this legislation provides a real pathway.”
The president said that enhancing border security measures and workplace enforcement provisions are a part of his plan, as well as the Senate’s, and cited his administration’s efforts to bulk up border security during the past four years, saying that illegal crossings have dropped 80 percent since 2000.
“We have done almost everything that Republicans asked to be done several years ago as a condition to move ahead with comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “It’s not as if we haven’t been attentive to border security and we will continue to be attentive to border security.”
Obama also reiterated that his path to citizenship would be earned, meaning that undocumented immigrants would have to pass a background check, pay fines and back taxes, learn English and go to the back of the line.
“That pathway will take some time. Even under our proposal, this is not a situation where overnight people are suddenly going to find themselves a citizen,” he said.
Obama also suggested that he wouldn’t accede to a demand from immigrant-rights groups that a moratorium be placed on deportations of undocumented immigrants who otherwise do not have criminal records, saying it would amount to executive overreach.
“I’m not a king,” he said.
But he said that passing comprehensive reform would allow him to address the record levels of deportations, which have been a grave concern to many in the Latino community.
“There are still going to be stories that are heartbreaking with respect to deportations until we get comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important for us to go ahead and get this action done.”
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