GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Locked in a health care debate that is claiming much of his energy, President Barack Obama conceded that a push to overhaul the nation’s immigration system will have to wait until 2010 and even then will prove a major political test.
Obama suggested it would be too ambitious to aim for passage of new immigration laws before the end of 2009, at a time when he will be confronting “a pretty big stack of bills.”
Speaking at the end of a two-day summit meeting of fellow North American leaders, Obama said, “Now, I’ve got a lot on my plate, and it’s very important for us to sequence these big initiatives in a way where they don’t all just crash at the same time.”
Obama said he won’t ignore immigration until 2010. His administration is meeting with lawmakers and coming up with a bill that would enjoy bipartisan support, so that “when we come back next year … we should be in a position to start acting.”
As a candidate, Obama said during a campaign stop in July 2008 he would make immigration “a top priority in my first year as president.”
Opponents of the existing immigration structure said they were dismayed by the timetable.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group, said he does not expect immigration reform to be as difficult as the administration seems to think it will be.
“I think we’d be smarter to move on it this year,” Sharry said. “There’s a real hunger on the part of the American public to make sure immigrants are legal, are working towards citizenship, are paying their taxes and not being used by bad-actor employers to undercut honest employers.”
Several Mexican officials also reacted with disappointment.
“This is not good news,” said Mexican Sen. Carlos Navarrete of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. “However, we can hope that Latino Congress members who have taken on this initiative (of immigration reform) will maintain their activism in this matter.”
Obama predicted he would prevail in providing a road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“Ultimately, I think the American people want fairness,” said Obama, speaking on a stage alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.