Obama: May be no desire to tackle immigration now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said yesterday there may not be an “appetite” in Congress to immediately tackle the divisive issue of US immigration reform.

Given the amount of work to do on energy legislation and lawmakers’ concerns about congressional elections in November, comprehensive immigration reform might be too much, he told reporters on board Air Force One when asked if he thought immigration reform could be passed this year.

“We’ve gone through a very tough year and I’ve been working Congress pretty hard, so I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue,” Obama said.

“There’s still work that has to be done on energy, midterms are coming up, so I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

Obama said he still wanted bipartisan effort on comprehensive immigration reform but appeared reluctant to put the issue before climate change legislation. Republicans have made clear they will not cooperate on climate change unless immigration is taken off the table for now.

“I think I can get a majority of Democrats to support a comprehensive approach, but I need some help on the Republican side,” he said.

US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he would work to pass energy legislation before tackling immigration, a strategy that might restore the bipartisan coalition behind the climate change bill push.

“I am going to move forward on energy first,” the Democratic senator told reporters at a news conference. “The bill’s ready. I don’t see why we can’t do that.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham pulled out of the effort to craft legislation addressing global warming with Democrat John Kerry and Independent Joseph Lieberman on Saturday, leaving the future of the climate bill unclear.

Graham said he was upset that Senate Democratic leaders and the White House were talking up the possibility of pursuing immigration reform prematurely, and complained it could take away time for a climate debate in the Senate.

Obama said his administration is looking into a new immigration law in Arizona that requires state and local police to determine a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” they are undocumented. Critics say it is unconstitutional and opens the door to racial profiling.

Republican backers of the law say it is needed to curb crime in the desert state, which is a major corridor for drug and migrant smugglers from Mexico.

Obama said he understood concerns about security and the hundreds of thousands of people who enter the country illegally.

“Obviously we still have to do more,” Obama said. “But we have to do more in the context of a comprehensive plan that maintains our status as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.”

“These kinds of short cuts I think we end up polarizing the situation instead of solving the problem.”

Traveling back from a trip to the Midwest heartland states of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, Obama said he was confident Americans would support comprehensive reform.

“Those folks aren’t enthusiastic about illegal immigration, but when you lay out for them a sensible way of doing it, making people who have broken the law responsible, securing our borders but also recognizing we’re not going to send millions of people back, many of them who have children here, and that there’s a more sensible way of dealing with it, people understand that,” he said.

“It’s a matter of political will.”

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