Seeking to break a deadlock on immigration reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said Congress could pass a legalization bill now but make it effective in 2017, after President Obama leaves office, as a way of earning Republican support.
Mr. Reid said the idea wasn’t his first preference but he was looking for ways to break through opposition by House Republicans, who have said they don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce laws they pass.
“I feel so strongly this bill needs to get done, I am willing to show flexibility,” the Nevada Democrat said. “I hope the Republicans will consider this offer. It’s done seriously. To show some compassion, start acting. [If] they say no to this offer, we’ll suggest that there’s never going to be a time when House Republicans are willing to act on immigration.”
It’s unclear how a delay would work. The bill Mr. Reid shepherded through the Senate last year would deliver quick legal status to most illegal immigrants, with a promise of a full pathway to citizenship a decade down the road, and the government would take steps to bolster border security and improve workplace checks.
Republicans dismissed the offer.
“Such a scenario would eliminate any incentive for the administration to act on border security or enforce the law for the remainder of President Obama’s term,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner.
All sides of the debate note that the window to act this year is shrinking quickly.
Mr. Reid said he will give House Republicans six weeks to pass a bill, and then it will be up to Mr. Obama to take unilateral action to stop deportations.
“Administrative rules cannot trump legislation. But we’re going to have to do what we have to do,” he said.
Mr. Obama has asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review options for halting even more deportations. One option is to stop a program known as Secure Communities, which scours state and local prisons and jails for illegal immigrants.
This week, sheriffs from major U.S. counties made a plea for the program to continue.
“We should fully implement Secure Communities, make minor changes, and fully support the program before looking at any large-scale changes,” Donny Youngblood, president of the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, wrote to Mr. Johnson.
The issue of deportations has become a major political flashpoint.
Immigrant rights advocates say the president has the legal authority to halt most deportations. Opponents say Mr. Obama already has overstepped his bounds by issuing a blanket halt to deportations of young adult illegal immigrants and making it almost impossible to deport other rank-and-file illegal immigrants who don’t have criminal records.
The issue is particularly pointed for Hispanics and is a dominant theme on Spanish-language newscasts in the U.S.