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Obama Urges Congress Not To 'Block' Immigration Bill


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The U.S. Senate has opened debate on a sweeping immigration bill. And President Obama says it's the best chance in years to fix what he calls a broken immigration system. The measure took a step forward yesterday when a big, bipartisan majority of senators voted to take up the bill. But it still faces serious obstacles, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This is the first time in six years the full Senate has considered an immigration bill, and President Obama is cheering the lawmakers on. He says the bill has support from a broad cross-section of Americans. As he spoke in the White House East Room yesterday, Obama was surrounded by businesspeople, labor leaders, clergymen and cops.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Americans who don't see eye-to-eye on every issue, in fact, in some cases don't see eye-to-eye on just about any issue, but who are today standing united in support of the legislation that is front-and-center in Congress this week.

HORSLEY: The immigration overhaul includes new resources for border security, penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, and tens of thousands of additional visas for high-skilled and low-skilled workers. The bill also includes a lengthy path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who are already in the country illegally.


OBAMA: Now, this bill isn't perfect. It's a compromise. And going forward, nobody is going to get everything that they want, not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But this is a bill that is largely consistent with the principles that I and the people on this stage have laid out for common-sense reform.

HORSLEY: Obama outlined his principles back in January. But since then, he's left it to a group of Democratic and Republican Senators to craft the legislation and shepherd it through committee. While it was Obama's reelection and his overwhelming support from Latino voters that made immigration a front-burner issue, political analyst Ross Baker of Rutgers says the president himself has largely stayed in the background.

ROSS BAKER: It's a very delicate kind of minuet that he's dancing here. On the one hand, he wants to be identified with comprehensive immigration reform. On the other hand, if I can use the expression, he doesn't want to contaminate it with White House fingerprints. I think he feels - and probably with some justification - that the greater his involvement in the process, the more likely it is to alienate Republican votes.

HORSLEY: The immigration bill still faces serious challenges, with numerous amendments possible in the weeks ahead. Obama told lawmakers he's open to tweaks in the legislation, but he urged them not to stand in its way.


OBAMA: There's no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we've had in years to address this problem in a way that's fair to middle-class families, to business owners, to legal immigrants.

HORSLEY: One big test will be an amendment offered by Texas Republican John Cornyn. He wants to make sure the government actually delivers on the bill's security promises, including surveillance of 100-percent of the border and a pledge to capture 90-percent of illegal crossers. Under Cornyn's amendment, no one on the path to citizenship would be eligible for a green card until those conditions are met.


SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: Americans are tired of hearing endless border security promises without seeing any realistic mechanism for guaranteeing results. My amendment would guarantee the results that Washington has long promised, but never delivered.

HORSLEY: Obama says in the last decade, the government has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents, and the immigration bill would invest billions of dollars more. But the president argues those who are here illegally also need some certainty if they're to come out of the shadows. He says their future shouldn't be held up by a subjective measure of border security.


OBAMA: It must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship.

HORSLEY: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he hopes for a vote on the immigration bill by the Fourth of July. Meanwhile, House lawmakers are working on their own versions. Obama says if members of Congress are serious about fixing a broken system, now is the time to get it done. Scott Horsley, NPR news, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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