WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner on Friday said it was time to address immigration policy and urged President Barack Obama to take the lead in coming up with a plan that would look at both improved enforcement of immigration law and the future of the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
Immigration policy, largely ignored during Obama's first four years in office, has reemerged as a key issue as Republicans seek ways to rebound from the beating they got from Hispanic voters during the presidential election. More than 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama, who has been more open than Republicans to comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws.
"It's just time to get the job done," Boehner said at a news conference. He said lawmakers from both parties want to resolve the issue. "But again, on an issue this big, the president has to lead."
But Boehner would not commit to supporting legislation that might open a pathway to citizenship – an idea that most Republicans have strongly opposed – for those living in the country illegally.
"I'm not talking about a 3,000-page bill," he said. "What I'm talking about is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws and fix a broken immigration system."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the election that the vote showed that Democrats are the party of diversity, and he plans to bring up an immigration reform bill next year. He said Republicans would block such legislation at their own "peril."
Boehner, in an earlier interview with ABC, appeared to open the way for discussion on immigration by saying that a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and "I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
That won praise from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., head of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, who called Boehner's recognition of the urgent need for immigration reform a "breakthrough."
But Rep. John Fleming, R-La., also expressed concern that Boehner was "getting ahead of House Republicans when he commits to getting a 'comprehensive approach' to immigration."
"There's been zero discussion of this issue within the conference, and I'm urging the speaker to talk with House Republicans before making pledges on the national news," Fleming said.
Hispanics proved to be a critical source of support for Obama, and Republicans have since cited their failure to attract Hispanic voters as one reason for Obama's victory. The two candidates offered a stark contrast during the campaign.
Obama has been supportive to immigration law overhaul and in June announced that people brought here illegally as children who had graduated high school or served in the military would not be deported and would be granted work permits. GOP candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, supported more hardline policies and at one point called for "self-deportation" to shrink the number of people in the country illegally.