President Barack Obama predicted the country will have a new immigration system by the end of the summer --- even if it has to be through his own bill should talks in Congress break down, though he's hoping it won't be necessary.
Obama pressed for swift action on a sweeping immigration bill Wednesday in back-to-back interviews with Spanish-language TV networks, noting that last-minute obstacles are "resolvable."
Obama repeatedly voiced confidence in a bipartisan Senate group -- the "Gang of Eight" -- that appears to be on the cusp of unveiling a draft bill.
If we have a bill introduced at the beginning of next month as these senators indicate it will be, then I'm confident that we can get it done certainly before the end of the summer.
- President Barack Obama told Telemundo
"If we have a bill introduced at the beginning of next month as these senators indicate it will be, then I'm confident that we can get it done certainly before the end of the summer," Obama told Telemundo network.
While overhauling the nation's patchwork immigration laws is a top second-term priority for the president, he has ceded the negotiations almost entirely to Congress. He and his advisers have calculated that a bill crafted by Capitol Hill stands a better chance of winning Republican support than one overtly influenced by the president.
The president also announced that he planned to visit Mexico, as well as Costa Rica, in early May. The immigration debate in the U.S. is being closely watched in Latin America.
In interviews Wednesday, Obama tried to stay out of the prickly policy issues that remain unfinished in the Senate talks, though he said a split between business and labor on wages for new low-skilled workers was unlikely to "doom" the legislation.
"This is a resolvable issue," he said.
The president made little progress in overhauling the nation's fractured immigration laws in his first term, but he redoubled his efforts after winning re-election. The November contest also spurred some Republicans to drop their opposition to immigration reform, given that Hispanics overwhelmingly backed Obama.
In an effort to keep Republicans at the negotiation table, Obama has stayed relatively quiet on immigration over the last month. He rolled out his immigration principles during a January rally in Las Vegas and made an impassioned call for overhauling the nation's laws during his early February State of the Union address, then purposely handed off the effort to lawmakers.
The president has, however, privately called members of the Senate working group, and the administration is providing technical support to lawmakers. The Gang of Eight is expected to unveil its draft bill when Congress returns from a two-week recess the week of April 8.
Obama and the Senate group are in agreement on some core principles, including a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, revamping the legal immigration system and holding businesses to tougher standards on verifying their workers are in the country legally.
But they're at odds over key issues. The Senate group wants the citizenship pathway to be contingent on securing the border, something Obama opposes. The president has also sidestepped the contentious guest-worker issue, which contributed to derailing immigration talks in 2007.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have reached significant agreements on a new visa program that would bring up to 200,000 lower-skilled workers to the country each year. But they reached a stalemate Friday over wages for the workers, with the labor union pushing for higher wages than the chamber has agreed to so far.
Since then, talks have resumed and negotiators are "back on the right track," Ana Avendano, a lead AFL-CIO negotiator, said Wednesday.
Avendano declined to offer specifics but said the chamber had moved off what she termed its insistence on "poverty-level wages" for the new workers.
Obama's visit to Costa Rica and Mexico will be an "important opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America," the White House said in a communique.
In Mexico, the U.S. president will meet with his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto, with whom he spoke by telephone on Wednesday, and they are expected to discuss "ways to deepen our economic and commercial partnership and further our engagement on the broad array of bilateral, regional, and global issues," the White House communique stated.
In Costa Rica, Obama is scheduled to meet with President Laura Chinchilla, as well as heads of state of other Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, at a regional conference Costa Rica is hosting, the statement continued.
The trip will be an "important chance to discuss our collective efforts to promote economic growth and development in Central America and our ongoing collaboration on citizen security," said the White House.
Although the communique does not say so, several press reports from the region have suggested, via unofficial sources, that Obama will participate in Costa Rica in a summit meeting of the Central American Integration System, or SICA.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press and EFE news agency.