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Obama, Cantor phone call on immigration highlights finger-pointing, deep divide

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FILE: July 15, 2013: Demonstrators march against amnesty for illegal immigrants at a rally in Washington, D.C. (REUTERS)

President Obama and House Republicans appear nowhere close to reaching a near-term compromise on immigration reform, following a conversation Wednesday between the president and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Obama, who supports the comprehensive reform legislation passed last summer with bipartisan support in the Democrat-controlled Senate, accused the House Republicans of repeatedly failing to act on such legislation and appearing to prefer “the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by the White House before his conversation with Cantor.

The president argued the Senate plan was a “common sense” agreement that will grow the economy by $1.4 trillion and reduce the federal deficit while providing a “tough but fair” pathway to citizenship for roughly 11 million illegal immigrants.

House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team have expressed a desire to pass immigration reform but appear uncertain about whether they can get the votes from rank-and-file members, including a conservative wing that considers granting citizenship to those who came illegally to the United States tantamount to amnesty.

In January, Boehner released a broad plan that included a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. However, the apparent lack of support appears to have shelved the issue until at least after the November elections.

“The majority of Americans are ahead of House Republicans on this crucial issue and there is broad support for reform,” Obama also said, according to the White House statement. “I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote.”

Cantor released his own statement following Wednesday's conversation, in which he said the House will not consider the Senate bill.

“The president called me hours after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together,” the Virginia Republican said. “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 also said he told Obama the same thing he told him the last time they spoke -- that House Republicans support neither amnesty efforts nor the Senate immigration bill.