Obama: "Narrow window" for Congress to pass immigration reform

President Obama speaks to law enforcement leaders from across the country on immigration reforms at the White House in Washington May 13, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Despite the evidence that House Republicans have no intention of taking up immigration reform in the near future, President Obama predicted that there's still a "narrow window" to pass some kind of legislation before the midterm elections.

The president's remarks came during brief remarks to more than 40 law enforcement leaders ranging from the National Sheriffs Association to the Fraternal Order of Police. The president praised the work that the officials do, but also noted that they are diverted from pursuing "gang bangers and...violent criminals" by spending so much time enforcing immigration laws that are flawed.

"Our broken immigration system makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to do their job," the president said. "Our system is not fair to workers, is not fair to businesses and is not fair to law enforcement agencies."

He blamed a "handful of House Republicans" for blocking the Senate's immigration bill, which passed in June 2013, from coming to the floor. Though Mr. Obama said he is not "hell bent" on signing that legislation in its original form, he argued that it still presents a good framework and concludes necessary components like creating a conditional pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally.

The president said that public opinion favors his view of reform, but that just two to three months remain in which a bill could feasibly be considered.

"The closer we get to midterm elections the harder it will be to get things done," he said.

Although House Republicans released a set of principles for an immigration overhaul at the beginning of the year including legal status, but not citizenship, for those in the country illegally, the leadership was quick to backtrack when it appeared there was insufficient support for any comprehensive proposal. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has repeatedly blamed Mr. Obama for the delay, saying members do not trust he will enforce any laws they pass.

Still, Boehner professes to hold out hope that immigration reform might happen.

"I need to work with my colleagues and bring them along. And while I feel strongly about the need to deal with immigration reform, I have got to bring these members along," he said in an event at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Monday.

Boehner said at the event that the House could consider smaller bills that deal with issues like border security and the status of illegal immigrants, but that the president still needed to build trust among House Republicans.

How exactly to tackle the issue of immigration remains a lightening rod among the GOP as the Hispanic population continues to grow and exert its influence in national elections, but the party's base remains resistant to any leniency toward people who broke the nation's laws.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., learned that the hard way when he saw some of his support from the most conservative wing of the GOP evaporate after he worked with a bipartisan group of seven other senators to write the immigration bill that passed the Senate.

Rubio has remained quiet on the issue for a long time, but may have decided that he has no hope of winning back support that is already lost. When asked about immigration during a speech on retirement security in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, the Florida senator delivered a surprisingly passionate defense of his work on the issue.

"I came here to do something, not just to be somebody. I understand that politically the easier thing is for me would have been to sit back....but I actually want to solve this issue. I actually came here to make a difference," Rubio said.

He declined to make a prediction as to what the House would do in the future, but said the Senate's bill was valuable because it re-oriented the legal immigration system around merit and skill, provided a way for employers to verify the legal status of their employees, and addressed the reality of the nearly 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

"We have to deal with the reality in a responsible and reasonable way," Rubio said. "If there's a better way to do it I'm obviously open to suggestions."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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