President Barack Obama rejected Republican complaints about his proposals for overhauling the U.S. immigration system on Wednesday and said he believes it is possible to get a deal done certainly by the end of the year if not in the first half.
Obama gave an interview to a pair of Spanish-language U.S. television networks, to promote his proposals for giving 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship after an influential bipartisan Gang of Eight senators offered its own plan.
"I'm hopeful that this can get done, and I don't think that it should take many, many months. 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 told Telemundo.
If Congress delays, he said, "I've got a bill drafted, we've got language" ready to offer Capitol Hill.
Obama offered his own principles on immigration in Las Vegas on Tuesday. He pushed for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants that is faster than the one the Senate group proposed.
Rather than emphasize border security first as the senators want, he would let undocumented immigrants go ahead and get on a path to citizenship, if they first undergo national security and criminal background checks, pay penalties, learn English and get behind those foreigners seeking to immigrate legally.
Asked by the Univision network about Republican criticism of his proposals, particularly from a Hispanic senator, Marco Rubio, Obama argued his administration has already done much work on securing the U.S. border with Mexico.
"Look, we put border security ahead of a pathway to citizenship. We have done more on border security in the last four years than we have done in the previous 20," Obama said. "We've actually done almost everything that Republicans asked to be done several years ago as a precondition to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform."
Republicans have complained Obama's more lenient path to citizenship is more liberal than they want to go. Obama offered to meet publicly or privately with Rubio and other senators to try to move the process forward.
The border security issue may be the toughest the two sides will have to overcome to reach the type of comprehensive overhaul that Washington has talked for years but been unable to execute.
Congress is now grappling with two major issues — immigration and Obama's efforts to tighten gun regulations. The president told Univision he believes Congress can handle both at the same time.
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