WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama prodded congressional negotiators to reach agreement on a plan to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, saying despite delays and disputes he still wants a bill to emerge soon and debate in the Senate to begin next month.
"We are making progress, but we've got to finish the job," Obama said at a naturalization ceremony for 28 citizens at the White House on Monday. "This issue is not new. Everyone pretty much knows what's broken. Everybody knows how to fix it. We've all proposed solutions, and we got a lot of white papers and studies. And we just got at this point to work up the political courage to do what's required to be done."
Obama's remarks were aimed at a bipartisan group of senators who have been working on a proposal for nearly three months. The so-called "gang of eight" had hoped to complete their work Friday, before a two-week congressional recess, but left town for spring break without a deal.
In January, Obama threatened to send his own bill to Congress if the group did not produce a proposal "in a timely fashion." His remarks Monday suggest the White House is willing to give the group more time to work before it takes that step.
"I expect the debate to begin next month. I want to sign that bill into law as soon as possible," he said. "We know that real reform means continuing to strengthen our border security and holding employers accountable. . Let's get this done."
Obama's timeframe may be tough for senators to reach. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, already has cast doubt on chances of getting a bill through his committee by the end of April. Even if the bill comes to the floor next month, a vote would not necessarily follow quickly. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to let senators debate the legislation at length and there remains no clear path for the bill through the Republican-led House.
The senators remain deadlocked over several issues, including the details of a guest-worker program and the how the legislation will implement and define security at the border.
Obama has largely steered clear of the talks, instead offering broad elements he wants to see included. The president on Monday used the platform to revive his call for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the key requirement for any bill.
Obama spoke after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano administered the oath to 28 new citizens, including 13 members of the military. Obama praised the group as a reminder of the "promise of America."
"Immigration makes us stronger. It keeps us vibrant. It keeps us hungry. It keeps us prosperous. It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country," he said.