WASHINGTON Partisan bickering over immigration reform legislation intensified on Wednesday as President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Republicans accused each other of standing in the way of progress one year after bipartisan Senate legislation was introduced.
On the one-year anniversary of the Senate bill, Obama went on the attack after a long period of trying to encourage progress in the House.
"Unfortunately, Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly failed to take action, seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
"I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote," Obama said.
He repeated that plea in a private conversation with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican said.
The Senate legislation, unveiled on April 16, 2013, and passed by the full Senate in June, has remained stalled in the Republican-led House, despite a strong vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Over the past few months, there has been little evidence the House would make progress in this mid-term election year in passing comprehensive immigration reform, even in a piecemeal fashion.
Instead, Republicans have devoted much of their efforts to blasting Obama's landmark healthcare law and calling for its repeal.
Obama has warned that a failure by Congress to pass legislation could prompt him to look for ways to use his executive powers to make some limited advances on U.S. immigration policy.
Cantor responded to Obama with a statement later on Wednesday, saying, "After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done. You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue."
Cantor's statement concluded with a plea for Obama to work with Congress on addressing "the issues facing working middle-class Americans" who are struggling.
In February, House Speaker John Boehner floated a set of principles for immigration legislation, which included legalizing some of those who entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas.
But conservative Republicans balked and warned their leaders to avoid such a divisive fight in this election year, when they are hoping to add to their House majority and take control of the Senate.
Instead of pursuing comprehensive immigration reform, so far, the House Judiciary Committee has focused mainly on clamping down on illegal entries and ferreting out undocumented residents.
More than 11 million people are thought to be in the United States illegally. Many are children brought over the southern U.S. border from Mexico by their parents, many of whom are employed by American firms in need of unskilled labor.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Tom Brown)