WASHINGTON (AP) — Prospects for comprehensive immigration legislation this year have grown murkier despite another push by President Barack Obama and a campaign by a coalition of business, religious and law enforcement groups to overhaul the decades-old system.
Most Republicans who control the House of Representatives reject a comprehensive approach and many question offering citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws. Only single-issue immigration bills have moved forward on a piecemeal basis in the House.
Although Republican leaders say they want to solve the issue, which has become a political drag for the party, many rank-and-file House members have shown little inclination to deal with it. With just a few legislative weeks left in the House, it's unclear whether lawmakers will vote on any measure before the year is out.
After Obama won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his re-election last year, some Republican in the Senate had a different reaction than their House colleagues, expressing concern that the party's opposition to immigration reform could hurt future election prospects by alienating the rapidly growing Latino voting bloc.
In June, 68 Democratic and Republican senators joined together to pass the Senate bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and tighten border security. Since then, opponents and many conservatives have stepped up their pressure against any legislation, based not only on their opposition to a pathway to citizenship but also their unwillingness to deliver on Obama's top second-term domestic agenda issue.
Determined to rally support, outside groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Bibles, Badges & Business for Immigration Reform are descending on the Capitol Tuesday to lobby lawmakers to vote this year on immigration legislation.
Obama on Monday reiterated his call for Congress to complete action on an immigration overhaul before the end of the year. He said that represented the only way to end the record deportations of immigrants undertaken by his administration, actions he has tried to curtail by allowing young people who immigrated illegally with their parents into the United States — so-called Dreamers — to remain in the country under certain conditions.
"That's why my top priority has been let's make sure that we comprehensively reform the whole system so that we're not just dealing with Dreamers, we're also dealing with anybody who's here and is undocumented," he said in an interview with Fusion, a cable channel that is a collaboration of ABC News and Spanish-language Univision.
But in a blow to his effort, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio signaled support for the House Republican leadership's plan to take a piecemeal approach to immigration legislation despite his months of work on passing comprehensive reform.
The Florida Republican — the son of Cuban immigrants and a potential presidential candidate in 2016 — had provided crucial support for the bipartisan Senate bill. The bill, strongly backed by the White House, includes billions of dollars for border security, a reworked legal immigration system to allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country, and a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants already in the U.S. illegally.
"Sen. Rubio has always preferred solving immigration reform with piecemeal legislation. The Senate opted to pursue a comprehensive bill, and he joined that effort because he wanted to influence the policy that passed the Senate," Rubio's spokesman, Alex Conant, said Monday in explaining Rubio's backing for limited measures.
The mood in Washington hasn't helped matters. A budget battle that led to a 16-day partial government shutdown and brought the U.S. to the brink of a debt default only inflamed conservative Republican opposition to Obama.
Some Republicans in the House remain hopeful, including Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Darrell Issa of California, who have been working on possible legislation.
Diaz-Balart has said his bill would help those immigrants here illegally to "get right with the law," purposely avoiding the word legalization that he said is interpreted differently in the fierce debate over immigration. Diaz-Balart had been slated to meet with Obama on Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled and could be rescheduled, the lawmaker's office said late Monday.
Separately, Congressman Jeff Denham became the first Republican to back a bill being crafted by minority House Democrats. Denham represents a swing district in northern California near San Jose and Silicon Valley.
The bill from House Democrats jettisoned the border security provision and replaced it with the House Homeland Security panel's version. That bill would require the secretary of Homeland Security to develop a strategy to gain operational control of the border within five years and a plan to implement the strategy.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata in Washington
contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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