The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama, Cantor spar over House GOP inaction on immigration

President Obama blasted House Republicans on immigration Wednesday, saying they would rather keep a fractured system in place than institute immigration reform.

Obama's statement comes on the first anniversary of the introduction of a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 68 to 32 in June. The decisive, bipartisan victory came in a chamber where partisanship has become the norm.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and fellow Republicans have refused to act on the contentious bill, which has led to fissures within the party. In January, Boehner released a set of immigration principles stipulating that border security and internal enforcement of immigration laws must come first. Republican leaders said they would be open to allowing illegal immigrants to work and live in the United States. They stopped short of embracing a "special path" to citizenship for people entered the country unlawfully or overstayed their visas.

Obama said Wednesday that Republicans have failed to take action, "seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform."

Later, Obama called House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), who was infuriated by the tone of the president’s earlier remarks and flatly rejected any consideration of the comprehensive Senate-passed plan. Cantor, in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, said the president showed “no sincere desire to work together” and suggested that, rather than immigration legislation, the two sides try to work together on smaller economics bills.

“You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue,” Cantor said. “I told the president the same thing I told him the last time we spoke. House Republicans do not support the Senate Democrats’ immigration bill and amnesty efforts, and it will not be considered in the House.”

Obama and Democrats said a Republican bill that passed the House last week goes after Obama for a number of policies, including health care and focusing on deporting criminals rather than the children of undocumented immigrants. Last year, the House voted on an amendment that would strip protections from these children, who are known as "Dreamers" because they would have benefited from a long-stymied legislative proposal called the Dream Act.

"House Republicans have voted in favor of extreme measures like a punitive amendment to strip protections from Dreamers," Obama said.

The Senate bill's reforms would cost $50 billion. The bill would open up a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. It would also place an onus on employers, who would be required to check the legal status of employees, and it would double the number of Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexican border and build 700 miles of fence there.

Obama said the Senate bill would grow the economy and shrink the national deficit by nearly $850 million, "while providing a tough but fair pathway to earned citizenship to bring 11 million undocumented individuals out of the shadows."

Obama said the Senate bill would allow the country to "live up to our most closely-held values as a society."

Paul Kane contributed to this story.