WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama warned on Tuesday a narrow window remained to pass immigration reform before mid-term elections, seeking to keep alive perhaps his last hope for a major second-term domestic achievement.
Mr Obama told police chiefs and top law enforcement officers that bitter party politics ahead of November’s polls would threaten hopes of moving a reform bill, currently stalled in the US House of Representatives.
“We have got this narrow window – the closer to the mid-term elections, the harder it is,” Mr Obama said.
“It is hard to believe that this place could get a little more dysfunctional,” he quipped about Washington.
“It is very hard right before an election. We have got a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives.” The Democratic-led Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill last year.
But the bill ground to a halt in the Republican House, with conservatives arguing that they cannot trust Mr Obama to enforce border laws cracking down on undocumented workers.
Conservatives in the restive Republican caucus are also loath to pass a bill many see as offering amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.
And Republican party chiefs want to keep the focus on Mr Obama’s health care law – a key motivator for the party’s base voters.Mr Obama did give House Speaker John Boehner credit for backing the idea of immigration reform.
But he lashed out at a “handful of House Republicans” he said were blocking legislation.
The Senate bill includes a path to eventual citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants, tighter border monitoring, an overhauled work visa programme and other key reforms.
Mr Boehner has said the House will not take up the Senate bill but will deliver its own product.
His spokesman Michael Steel said on Tuesday it would be “impossible to make progress until the American people – and their elected representatives – have faith that the president himself will actually enforce the law as written.”
Even if the House did pass its own legislation, prospects of winning Senate agreement are uncertain with some lawmakers wary of tough votes before an election in which Republicans hope to win control of the Senate.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, an architect of the Senate plan, was the target of a fierce backlash by conservatives who believe his bill translates to amnesty.
But he stood his ground Tuesday, saying that while he acknowledged that acting on immigration comes “with some political peril” for Republicans, “we have to address that reality that we have 12 million people living in this country who are here illegally.”
Cuban-American Rubio, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, said he regretted not having more support for his bill.“If there’s a better way to do it, I’m obviously open to those suggestions,” he said.
Long-term, Republican leaders warn that the party cannot afford to alienate Hispanic voters – an increasingly important demographic bloc in national elections for which immigration reform is an article of faith.
Even if there is little prospect of immigration reform passing before the election, it does Mr Obama no harm to keep the effort in the headlines as it is a key motivator for Hispanic voters, who tend to favour Democrats.