Without offering details or a timetable, President Barack Obama said on Friday that he had received proposals by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Justice Department on reforming some aspects of immigration, and would be reviewing those suggestions on his flight back to Washington D.C.
Facing competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups and from Democrats nervous about November's midterm election, Obama made no commitment about whether he would act in the coming weeks as he had earlier pledged.
"My expectation is that fairly soon, I'll be considering what the next steps are," he said during a news conference in Wales at the end of a two-day NATO summit.
Still, Obama spelled out his goals with a degree of specificity that he had previously not detailed.
He said that without congressional action to overhaul the immigration system, he would take steps to increase border security, to upgrade the processing of border crossers, to encourage legal immigration and to give immigrants who have been illegally in the United States for some time a path to become legal residents, pay taxes, pay a fine and learn English.
"I want to be very clear: My intention is, in the absence of...action by Congress, I'm going to do what I can do within the legal constraints of my office, because it's the right thing to do for the country," he said.
On June 30, Obama said he had directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to give him recommendations for executive action by the end of summer and pledged to "adopt those recommendations without further delay."
But the White House has been under pressure from some Democrats to delay any action until after the elections out of fear that taking steps now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Some have voiced misgivings about Obama acting on his own at all.
"We need to fix our nation's broken immigration system, which is why I supported the Senate's bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill," said Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat seeking re-election In Minnesota. "I have concerns about executive action. This is a job for Congress, and it's time for the House to act.?"
Advocacy groups have countered by stepping up their calls for swift action. In a letter to Obama on Friday, leaders of major pro-immigrant groups called on him to stick to his self-imposed deadline and "not to allow shortsighted political interests to get in the way of doing what is right for our communities and our country.
"Being a leader requires making difficult and courageous decisions," the letter, whose signers included the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens, said. "It is your time to lead, Mr. President."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.