March 27, 2013— -- President Obama expects an immigration bill to come before the Senate next month and voiced optimism that a final bill could pass through Congress this summer.
A bipartisan group of senators, known as the "Gang of Eight," missed a self-imposed deadline to submit a comprehensive immigration reform bill by the end of March, sparking concern that the group had reach an unsolvable impasse. But Obama said on Wednesday that the group is "actually making progress" and that they are very close to reaching a final agreement on a bill.
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"I'm actually optimistic that when they get back they will introduce a bill," Obama said during an interview with Univision. "My sense is that they have come close and my expectation is that we'll actually see a bill on the floor of the Senate next month."
The president has repeatedly said that he would propose his own immigration bill should negotiations in Congress grind to a halt. But Obama refused to say that he would take such action even if the lawmakers fail to introduce a bill in April.
"I'm not going to presuppose that they don't [reach an agreement]," he said.
When Obama was asked if immigration reform could still get done by summer, a goal he set out earlier this year, the president replied, "I believe so."
Comprehensive immigration reform is one of Obama's top second-term priorities, and it's a rare issue where agreement between Republicans and Democrats in Washington has emerged since the November election.
The president has long faced pressure from Latino groups to act, especially since seven in ten Latino voters backed his reelection bid. Republican decision-makers certainly believe that cooperating on an immigration bill could help them make inroads among Latino voters, who have largely abandoned the party during the past eight years.
But some of the specific details of the bill have proven tough to iron out, like a new visa program to bring in low-skilled immigrant workers. One area where Obama says there is broad agreement is border security. The president said it's important for an immigration overhaul to ensure that employers cannot hire undocumented immigrants. He also said it must tighten security at the U.S.'s southern border, but added that tremendous progress has already been made.
"Given the size of the border, it's never going to be 110 percent perfect," Obama said. "What we can do is to continue to improve it."
At the same time, Obama said that many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. "have invested their lives here, many of them with American born children." It's essential, he added, that "they have an opportunity to earn their way -- a difficult path but a certain path -- toward citizenship."
Obama's comments came on the same day that four members of the Senate "Gang of Eight" toured the border fence in Nogales, Arizona. Highlighting the challenge of securing the border, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the group witnessed a woman successfully climb over the fence separating the U.S. from Mexico. U.S. Border Patrol apprehended the woman, according to McCain.
"There has been improvement made, and we are very grateful for the men and women who are doing this very difficult work. And we're proud that we have them defending us," McCain said, according to the Arizona Republic. "I am very glad my colleagues came."
Some Republicans have balked at the quick timeline favored by Obama. A group of six GOP senatos penned a letter urging the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), to give lawmakers more time to "read and analyze the contents of such bill."
Obama also addressed the two cases before the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage. One challenges the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. The other concerns the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The president, who just came out in favor of gay marriage last year, refused to predict how the high court would rule but that it "was appropriate for the court to weigh in on this issue." He said that he believes same-sex couples should be able to marry and receive federal benefits the same as heterosexual couples.
"I think people should respect everybody's different opinions on this issue," he said. "But when it comes to the law, everybody should be equal before the law."
The White House on Wednesday announced that Obama would visit Mexico and Costa Rica in May. The president said he would discuss ways to boost trade and economic cooperation with Mexican and Central American leaders.
"A lot of what drives both illegal immigration to the United States, but also what drives a lot of the violence in these countries, is a lack of opportunity," Obama said "If we can help them to grow, that could be good for the United States, that could be good for those countries as well."