In a meeting with law enforcement leaders about how to reform immigration, President Barack Obama said that he thought Congress had a narrow window left this year to pass a comprehensive measure on the issue before mid-term elections.
Obama, who has been meeting with different groups – including conservative ones such as evangelicals – about immigration reform, told the law enforcement officials on Tuesday that after about August, the attention on Congress would be on the November elections.
"The closer we get to midterm elections the harder it will be to get things done," Obama told the group, according to published reports.
Obama is touting a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate, but says he's, in his words, "not hell-bent" on having every letter of that bill reach his desk. Still, he says there's certain principles that must be included, such as a path to citizenship.
The president stressed the benefits to law enforcement of a revamped immigration system. He said an overhaul, for instance, would help crack down on unscrupulous employers who exploit undocumented workers.
But the status quo, Obama added, "makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to do their job.”
"Large segments of the community are afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses because they fear the consequences for themselves or their families," the president said. "This system is not fair. It’s not fair to workers; it's not fair to businesses who are trying to do the right thing; it’s not fair to law enforcement agencies that are already stretched thin."
Obama says House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republicans, wants to do immigration. But he says a handful of House Republicans are blocking it.
He exhorted his audience to lobby Boehner and House Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.
"We've got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives. And your voices are going to be absolutely critical to that effort," said the president.
Last June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform measure that, among other things, tightened border security, expanded foreign worker visas and provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
But the effort has stalled in the House, where Republicans have a majority and several of them have vowed not to pass a bill that gives amnesty to people who have broken immigration laws.
For his part, Obama several times has uttered deadlines for Congress to act on immigration – sometimes he has set them forth as an ultimatum, others he simply has discussed the time frame he believed existed for the lawmakers to discuss and act on a measure.
Last year, and again earlier this year, Obama said that if Congress did not pass an immigration reform bill, he would put one forth himself, as well as take some unilateral steps to address aspects of the issue.
The president has taken some steps, such as establishing an initiative in 2012 that suspended deportation for two years for undocumented immigrants brought as minors and who met other criteria.
But advocates for more lenient immigration policies increasingly have shifted their frustrations to Obama, who has presided over some 2 million deportations since he took office in 2008.
“The president's remarks on immigration today are more of an indictment of his own policies than of Congress's failure to allow a vote," said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, in a statement. "President Obama's policies, not Republicans in Congress, have led to the Arizonification of the country. It borders on becoming a political crime for President Obama to decry the very status quo he created."
"While there is unity among immigrant rights advocates on the need for Speaker Boehner to allow a vote," said Alvarado, "there is equal consensus that the president should end his failed experiment to use police and sheriffs as so-called ‘force multipliers’ for immigration enforcement."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.