WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he hopes immigration reform can be passed into law by June, but in the meantime he has no plans to halt or slow deportations, despite pleas from advocates.
Obama gave interviews to two Spanish-language outlets, Univision and Telemundo, on Wednesday, the day after he delivered a major speech on immigration reform. He argued that much of the legislative work on the issue is already done, given years of work by a number of members of Congress and his own administration. Now, the struggle is about convincing lawmakers to sign on, he told Telemundo's José Díaz-Balart.
"Really the issue here is not so much technical as it is political," Obama said on Telemundo. "It's a matter of Republicans and Democrats coming together and finding a meeting of the minds and then making the case. And, you know, I'm hopeful that this can get done and I don't think that it should take many, many months."
He predicted to both outlets that reform would happen, but sounded a note of caution.
"The one thing I can guarantee is my effort," Obama told Telemundo. "I can guarantee that I will put everything I've got behind it. We're putting our shoulder to the wheel."
Until then, Obama said his administration will continue its current policies on deportation. The percentage of criminals deported on his watch has increased -- though "criminal" is broadly defined -- and removals have hit record numbers. Obama told Díaz-Balart that he has to enforce the current law.
"I make no apologies for us enforcing the law as well as the work that we've done to strengthen border security," he said.
Asked whether deportations would keep coming, Obama said, "That may be a moot question, because I anticipate us being able to get comprehensive immigration reform done," adding that he would change the law unilaterally if he could.
Speaking to Univision in a separate interview, Obama said he cannot stop deportations. "I'm not a king," he told anchor Maria Elena Salinas.
"There are still going to be stories that are heartbreaking with respect to deportations until we get comprehensive immigration reform," he said. "That's one of the reasons I think it's so important for us to go ahead and get this action done."
The issue of enforcement is a major one as the immigration debate moves forward. Many Republicans charge the president has refused to police the border and enforce current law, and therefore can't be trusted to prevent more unauthorized immigration in the future. A framework offered this week by the Senate "gang of eight" -- four Republicans and four Democrats -- would tie green cards to border security, while still allowing undocumented immigrants already in the country to gain immediate provisional status.
Obama's plan includes a pathway to citizenship without a border security trigger, but also calls for more enforcement. The White House has not said whether he would be open to the idea of green cards connected to border security issues, but he told Univision his priority is a clear pathway to citizenship.
"What we don't want to do is create some kind of vague prospect in the future that somehow comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will happen, you know, mañana," he said. "We want to make sure we are very clear this legislation provides a real pathway."
Obama said in his speech Tuesday that he would make Congress vote on his legislation for immigration reform if members are not able to come up with their own bill. But he told Univision he is willing to be somewhat flexible on the timeline.
"If they are on a path, as they have already said, where they want to get a bill done by March, then I think that's a reasonable timeline and I think we can get that done," he said. "I'm not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little room to debate. If it slips a week, that's one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that's a problem."
Also on HuffPost:
"Gang Of Eight"
A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/immigration-reform-framework_n_2566494.html?1359387491">bipartisan group of senators</a> have come together to address the issue of immigration reform. The group consists of four members of each party -- Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, plus Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Their framework was announced Monday.
Pathway To Citizenship
A <a href="http://www.docstoc.com/docs/142894316/Bipartisan-immigration-plan">"tough but fair" </a> road to citizenship is the main tenet of the bipartisan immigrant plan. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the most significant supporter of this idea, giving hope to those who doubt Republicans will support the plan.
The New Process
The new process of obtaining citizenship would be just that -- a process. Probationary citizens would be required to pass an additional background check, learn English, pay taxes and show that they have a history of employment to apply for permanent residence and a green card. Undocumented immigrants will receive green cards after all probationary citizens have been processed, ensuring that documented immigrants are addressed first. Separate processes would be designed for young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children and agricultural workers.
Enforcement, Then Green Cards
The first goal, before any green cards are handed out, is to "demonstrate our commitment to securing our borders and combating visa overstays," the senators say in their framework.
Enhance Border Security And Drones
Emphasizing enforcement measures, the framework calls for increased boarder control, including more border agents and aerial surveillance and drones. A new system would be added to ensure visa stays are being adhered to, along with a commission of border lawmakers to aid legislation.
Increase Employment Verification
The senators have proposed to create an "effective employment verification system" that would help prevent identity theft while allowing employers to feel secure in hiring documented immigrants.
No Benefits For Probationary Immigrants
Immigrants who are in the probationary category would not be eligible for federal benefits in the senators' framework. This addresses the concern that public benefits, particularly health-related ones, are being spent on undocumented immigrants.
An Easier Path For 'The Best And Brightest'
The framework recognizes that a different sort of process would be needed for "the best and brightest," including highly-skilled workers and those with higher education. This has been previously addressed in the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/stem-act-white-house-immigration_n_2207279.html">STEM Act </a> which was ultimately vetoed by the White House.