President Obama urged House leaders Saturday to complete work on immigration reform before the August congressional recess, saying there has been ample debate on the issue.
“The ball is in the House’s court. The time is right,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference in South Africa, where he also met with the family of ailing civil-rights icon Nelson Mandela.
The president issued his call two days after the Senate voted 68-32 to pass a comprehensive immigration bill that includes new border security measures and a 13-year path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants. Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has said the Senate bill won’t pass in the House and that the House GOP will write their own bill.
Mr. Obama said he expects the House to finish the legislation before leaving Washington for the traditional summer recess.
“I do urge the House to try to get this done before the August recess,” Mr. Obama said. “There is more than enough time. This thing has been debated amply and they’ve got a bunch of weeks to get it done and now is the time.”
Many House Republicans oppose a path to citizenship for people who are in the United States illegally, saying law-breakers should not receive amnesty. Altering the Senate bill significantly would like encounter opposition from Mr. Obama, who on Saturday called it “a sound framework.”
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The president spoke on Friday to Mr. Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy E. Pelosi, California Democrat, about the need to move on the legislation.
“One thing I know about why the United States is admired around the world is that people understand the United States is a nation of immigrants,” Mr. Obama said. “Like South Africa, we’re a multi-cultural, multi-racial nation and that makes us stronger. Our diversity is a source of strength. We need to get this right.”
Mr. Obama held a joint news conference in Pretoria Saturday with South African Pressident Jacob Zuma, and met later with Mr. Mandela’s family. The 94-year-old former South African president is hospitalized with a lung infection in critical but stable condition.
“I expressed my hope that Madiba [Mr. Mandela] draws peace and comfort from the time that he is spending with loved ones, and also expressed my heartfelt support for the entire family as they work through this difficult time,” Mr. Obama said, using Mr. Mandela’s tribal name. “I also reaffirmed the profound impact that his legacy has had in building a free South Africa, and in inspiring people around the world - including me.”
He compared Mr. Mandela, who resisted white minority rule, to George Washington, saying he made an example to the world by voluntarily relinquishing power after five years in office.
“Nelson Mandela, I think, was able to recognize that despite how revered he was that part of this transition process was to make sure it was bigger than just one person, even one of the greatest people in history,” Mr. Obama said. “And what a lesson that is.”
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The president said Mr. Mandela had served as a “personal inspiration” to him and to others around the world.
“When a priority is placed on constitutions and rule of law and respect for human dignity and all people are treated equally and we rise above our parochial concern and what Nelson Mandela also stood for is that the recognition of a well being of a country is more important than the well-being of any one person,” Mr. Obama said.
The president also led a virtual town-hall meeting from Soweto, South Africa, an event that was televised to audiences in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.