WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama told a group of Senate Democrats Wednesday that Congress must move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, or else he will propose his own legislation on the hot-button topic.
Obama met with Sens. Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez and Michael Bennet, the four Democrats in the bipartisan group of eight senators who introduced a framework for immigration reform last month. A bipartisan group of House members is also working in secret to craft immigration reform measures.
In a description of Wednesday’s meeting, the White House said Obama “reiterated the key principles he believes must be a part of any bipartisan, commonsense effort, including continuing to strengthen border security, creating an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable and streamlining legal immigration.”
Those measures are included in the bipartisan framework that was unveiled last month, though that proposal (which has yet to be drafted into formal legislation) would require bolstering border security as a prerequisite to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
The White House has argued that the U.S. border is currently the most secure it’s ever been. Obama made the case Wednesday in his meeting with the lawmakers that “continuing to strengthen our borders and creating a path to earned citizenship that ensures everyone plays by the same set of rules are shared goals and should not be seen as mutually exclusive.”
And the president warned that he “stands ready to introduce his own legislation if Congress fails to act” on a comprehensive immigration reform plan.
In January – at the same time the bipartisan group of senators was outlining its immigration framework – Democratic sources told CNN that the White House had been advising senators and advocates that they were writing their own immigration bill in formal legislative language. The White House rarely writes its own legislation.
By presenting his own legislation, Obama could avoid GOP criticism that he’s disconnected from the process. Even if Obama’s bill failed to win congressional approval, the president would still be able to point to his legislation as evidence of engagement.
Democrats urged the president not to release his own bill in January, fearing such a move would stymie the delicate negotiations taking place among lawmakers in both parties. In terms of substance, sources familiar with both proposals said the border security trigger included in the bipartisan Senate framework was not a part of the president’s plan.
On Wednesday, an aide to one of the Democratic senators said the lawmakers told the president “they remain confident that a bipartisan bill could be agreed to in the coming weeks.”
“The Senators said the bipartisan negotiations were progressing well and that both sides were making progress and working together in good faith,” the aide said.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama called on Congress to send him a comprehensive immigration reform package, saying both sides agree on what measures need to be included to make the system work better.
“We know what needs to be done,” Obama said. “As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.”