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Obama offers rough timetable for immigration overhaul

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President Obama said Wednesday that he wants Congress to pass an overhaul of immigration law in the first half of the year, suggesting that if lawmakers cannot produce a detailed plan within a few months, he would probably intervene with his own legislation.

In interviews with Hispanic television networks, Obama, for the first time, gave a rough timetable for an overhaul of immigration policy. He told interviewers at Telemundo and Univision that he thought a March deadline for a plan was sensible.

“I don’t want us waiting six months or a year to get this done. And there’s no reason why we can’t move fairly quickly,” Obama told Univision. “I’m not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little bit of room to debate. If it slips a week, that’s one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that’s a problem.”

The comments followed an appearance by the president Tuesday in Las Vegas, where he called for a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Obama said his administration had written specific legislation, but he would only introduce it if lawmakers could not act swiftly enough to bring a bill forward for debate.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a plan of their own Monday, with some saying that they hoped to write legislation by March — which Obama called “a reasonable timeline” in his interview with Telemundo.

Obama told Univision that Congress could move forward on an immigration overhaul and on tightening gun laws in the coming months, but he predicted that the immigration debate would be smoother.

“My suspicion is we’re seeing more bipartisan discussion on the immigration issue than on the gun issue,” he said.

The president said that while he and his staff would provide “technical assistance” to lawmakers, he would largely allow Congress to develop the details of the immigration legislation on its own.

“I don’t want to fill in all the blanks. Because otherwise I would have gone ahead and put a bill forward,” Obama said. “And then sometimes that creates a dynamic in Congress [where] if I’m for it, then maybe some people have to be against it.”

Obama faced questioning from both networks on whether he would slow deportations while immigration reform is being debated — or offer the kind of reprieve to illegal immigrants that he did to young undocumented immigrants last year.

He responded that he probably would not.

“I’m not a king. My job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law,” Obama told Telemundo. “When it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws, we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law.”

Obama said he thinks that there’s a better chance now for immigration reform than at any point in his tenure. But he acknowledged there are still risks.

“Now does that mean that something couldn’t go off the rails? That the pressure of those who are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform might . . . be able to block it?” he said. “Of course, that’s still a possibility. But the one thing I can guarantee is my effort. I can guarantee that I will put everything I’ve got behind it.”

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