Obama hoping for immigration draft by end of year

Immigration reform will not be done in 2009, but President Barack Obama suggested Monday he hopes to see draft legislation by the end of the year.

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Obama also suggested a push for immigration reform could take place next year, which would introduce a bruising legislative battle ahead of the 2010 midterm elections.

Speaking at a press conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, after a summit with Canada and Mexico, Obama said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is coordinating discussions with House and Senate members, and “when we come back next year... we should be in a position to start acting.”

The president made it clear that immigration reform is not at the top of his priority list and will have to wait behind other issues. He said he wants to see healthcare reform passed in the fall, climate change legislation passed out of the Senate and financial regulatory reform passed this year.

“That's a pretty big stack of bills,” the president said.

Obama last Friday also said he hoped to have draft legislation completed by the end of the year. Previously, Obama had suggested legislation could be completed late this year or early next year.

After a late June White House meeting with lawmakers, Obama said he wanted to to sign immigration reform legislation in either late 2009 or early 2010

On Monday, he signaled how hard it will be to pass something this year or next year.

“Now, am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No,” Obama said. “This is going to be difficult; it's going to require bipartisan cooperation. There are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United States is unacceptable. And those are fights that I'd have to have if my poll numbers are at 70 or if my poll numbers are at 40. That's just the nature of the U.S. immigration debate.”

Despite the optimism of the president and many lawmakers about passing reform next year, several on Capitol Hill are skeptical such a hot-button issue can move in an election year.

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who just announced his resignation from the Senate, said after the meeting in June that the “tough stuff” members are facing now will only get worse if it is put off to next year when members are running for reelection.

“This is the kind of issue that in an election year becomes very, very difficult,” Martinez said.

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