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Obama: Small window to get immigration reform done this year

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to remarks by Uruguay's President Jose Mujica before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May
U.S. President Barack Obama listens to remarks by Uruguay's President Jose Mujica before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Tuesday there was a small window of opportunity now to pass immigration reform in the House of Representatives, before Washington's attention turned completely to the November midterm congressional elections.

The comments signaled White House hope that immigration reform, a top priority for the second-term president, still could be passed this year.

Obama has been pushing to revise U.S. immigration laws and create a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented residents, but a bill that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House.

"We've got this narrow window. The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here," Obama told a meeting of law enforcement leaders. "We've got maybe a window ... of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives."

As he has done before, Obama said he was willing to compromise on aspects of the bill, but he noted that "some pathway to citizenship" would be needed.

"We're not hell bent on making sure that every letter of what's in the Senate bill is exactly what ultimately lands on my desk for signature," he said.

House Republicans have said they are reticent about working with Obama on a compromise because of concerns that he will not enforce the law.

"We have a broken immigration system, but it is impossible to make progress until the American people - and their elected representatives - have faith that the president himself will actually enforce the law as written," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Obama said he believed Boehner wanted to get a law passed.

"To their credit, I think Speaker Boehner and some of the other leaders there do believe that immigration reform's the right thing, but they've got to have a political space that allows them to get ahead and get it through their caucus and get it done," he said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason)

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