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Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 12:24am
El Paso, TX — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he wants to get an immigration reform package passed as soon as this summer.
"I'm hopeful that this can get done, and I don't think that it should take many, many months," Obama said in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo. "I think this is something we should be able to get done certainly this year, and I'd like to see if we could get it done sooner, in the first half of the year if possible."
Obama previously said he wanted to accomplish immigration reform within the first year of his second term, but his latest comments represent a more rushed timeline of his goals.
The president said "now's the time" for reform and highlighted his agenda Tuesday in a Las Vegas speech, specifying three pillars: better enforcement of immigration laws, providing a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, and reforming the legal immigration system.
His speech came one day after a bipartisan group of eight senators outlined their own framework for immigration legislation. A main sticking point between the two plans involves a path to citizenship: Obama says he wants a "clear" path, while the senators want a "tough but fair" path and only after bolstering the nation's border security.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the so-called Gang of Eight senators, criticized the president Tuesday for not making border security more of a priority in his proposals.
Obama, however, said Wednesday in an interview with another Spanish-language network, Univision, that his administration has already "done more on border security in the last four years than we have in the previous 20."
"We've actually done almost everything that Republicans asked to be done several years ago as a condition to move ahead on comprehensive immigration reform," he said.
The president added that he doesn't want to "create some vague prospect" that would kick immigration reform down the road, or "manana," as he put it.
"We want to make sure that we're very clear that this legislation provides a real pathway," he said.
Asked why he hasn't met in person with any Republicans in the "Gang of Eight," Obama said he's "happy to meet with anybody" but added that lawmakers have a different way of going about forming bipartisan deals.
"Oftentimes what happens is members of Congress prefer meeting by themselves to build trust between Democrats and Republicans. They want assistance from us but sometimes they want back channels, and if they want to have a public meeting, if they want a private meeting, anything that is necessary to move this forward, we are happy to."
While Obama issued an executive directive last year that deferred the deportation of some young undocumented workers, he said Wednesday that broader reform can only come from the legislative branch.
"I'm not a king," he said in the Telemundo interview. "You know, my job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law ... this is why we need a comprehensive immigration reform to make sure that once and for all, in a way that is ratified by Congress, we can say there is a pathway to citizenship for people."
If Congress fails to act in a "timely fashion," however, Obama has said he will send up his own bill on the issue.