WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday for the first time admitted that it was unlikely that the Republican-led House of Representatives would pass sweeping immigration reforms before lawmakers left Washington for a month-long break in August.
In television interviews taped with four Spanish-language newscasts, Obama said he thinks many Republicans need more time to grapple with concerns about border security and the changing demographics of America.
“I don’t think that we’re going to see it before the August recess,” Obama said in an interview with Telemundo’s Dallas affiliate.
After the Senate passed a comprehensive bill that includes a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, Obama argued that the House had “more than enough time” to review and pass it before the August break, when lawmakers head home to their districts.
But House Republicans have since made it clear they will come up with their own reforms, and plan to tackle the immigration issue in smaller bills.
Obama, who has made immigration reform a priority in his second term, said there was a “danger” in dealing with it in pieces, but refused to speculate about what would happen if the House failed to pass a bill.
“There’s a tendency I think to put off the hard stuff until the end. And if you’ve eaten your dessert before you’ve eaten your meal, at least with my children, sometimes they don’t end up eating their vegetables,” Obama told Telemundo.
Obama has insisted that reforms must include the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“It does not make sense to me, if we’re going to make this once-in-a-generation effort to finally fix the system, to leave the status of 11 million people or so unresolved,” he told Telemundo’s Denver affiliate.
Many House Republicans oppose that measure, calling it “amnesty” for people who have broken existing immigration laws. But Obama said ignoring the problem would resign undocumented immigrants to “a lower status.”
“I think that’s not who we are as Americans,” he said.
Obama said he believes some Republicans are responding to concerns they hear about border security, but said those worries should not be used “as an excuse not to solve the problem.”
“We can’t make it perfect. You’re never going to have zero people crossing the border without the proper papers. That’s not true at our northern border, it’s not true at our southern border - it’s not true anywhere in the world,” Obama told Telemundo’s Denver affiliate.
But Obama also said he thinks a growing Latino population has unsettled some people, noting the “higher birthrate” in the Latino community.
“I think some in the House ... believe that immigration will encourage further demographic changes and that may not be good for them politically,” he said.
Hispanic voters overwhelmingly voted for Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
Obama said he thought the growing Hispanic population in America should be “a source of pride,” and noted that earlier generations of Americans learned to get past their fears about new waves of immigrants.
“There was a time when people were worried, ‘What are the Irish going to do?’ And now everybody accepts that the Irish is strength in America,” he said.
“There were times where people were concerned about Asians and the Chinese who had been brought here from the railroads, and now there’s a recognition that obviously Asian Americans are incredible contributors to the wealth and prosperity of America.”
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Simao