Obama won’t prejudge GOP immigration plan

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014. Filed under: U.S. News
President Barack Obama waits with Sergeants at Arms and Members of Congress before entering the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2014 Standing with the President are, from left: Paul Irving, House Sergeant at Arms; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; and Terrance Gainer, Senate Sergeant at Arms. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama waits with Sergeants at Arms and Members of Congress before entering the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2014 Standing with the President are, from left: Paul Irving, House Sergeant at Arms; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; and Terrance Gainer, Senate Sergeant at Arms. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON  (AFP) – President Barack Obama said Friday he hoped to resolve differences with Republicans on whether to offer illegal immigrants eventual citizenship, saying he was “modestly optimistic” about the prospects for reform.

Obama gave his first reaction to a long-awaited plan by Republicans in the House of Representatives for immigration reform – an issue that represents perhaps his sole hope for a meaningful domestic legislative victory in his second term.

The president backs an eventual path for citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, but the Republican plan unveiled Thursday stops short of offering a route to US passports – a step many conservatives oppose as amnesty.

“The devil is in the details,” Obama said in a “Google+ Hangout” online forum dedicated to promoting policies he laid out in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to prejudge and presuppose that we can’t close some of those gaps,” Obama said.

“I’m going to keep on fighting as hard as I can and remain, as I said, modestly optimistic.”

Obama has been waiting since last year for the House to take up immigration reform after the Senate passed a bill providing a path to citizenship that would take at least 13 years.

If Republican leaders cannot sway their lawmakers on citizenship, Obama may be forced to decide whether to embrace a more restrictive compromise to get some kind of reform of the creaking US immigration system.

The White House makes clear that Obama has not changed his position on citizenship so far, but has declined to weigh in on his future intentions.

A Republican statement of principles said there would be “no special path to citizenship” for people who came to the United States illegally and were now living in limbo.

The draft did say that under the plan, immigrants “could live legally and without fear” in the United States but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, as well as pay significant fines and back taxes.

Obama vehemently pressed for comprehensive immigration reform during his 2008 campaign and his reelection race in 2012, and won the overwhelming support of the Hispanic community for which the issue is a dearly felt cause.

Republican leaders are conscious that their prospects for future White House races may hinge on improving their reputation with the increasingly important Latino demographic.

But they also know that pursuing a path to citizenship could split their party.

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