WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on the prospects of near-term immigration reform, saying Thursday that Barack Obama must rebuild "trust" in his presidency before there is progress on the issue.
"I have never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year," the top Republican in Congress told reporters one week after unveiling a set of immigration reform principles aimed at legalizing the millions of people living in the shadows in the United States.
Boehner said he and many Republicans bristled at Obama's announcement in last month's State of the Union address that he will skirt Congress and wield his executive authority to move on some issues like economic disparity.
Obama's pledge to increase his use of executive powers was only "feeding more distrust" of the administration, and immigration reform will stall until that rift is healed, Boehner said.
"There is widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws, and it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
Boehner added that Americans and lawmakers alike "don't trust that the reform we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be."
The speaker said he has been pushing for reform for the past 15 months, and that the issue "needs to be dealt with."
But he stressed that Obama, who strongly backed last year's Senate bill that laid out a 14-year pathway to citizenship for many of the more than 11 million people now in the country illegally, needed to engage more with Republicans on some of their priorities, including jobs and training bills that have stalled in the Democratic-run Senate.
"Understand something: the president is asking us to move one of the biggest bills of his presidency, and yet he has shown very little willingness to work with us on the smallest of things."
Last year the Senate passed a landmark bipartisan bill that laid out the most comprehensive immigration reform in a generation, including an overhaul of the guest worker program, tighter entry-exit monitoring, and improved border security.
But Boehner and his House Republicans rejected it, saying they would tackle the issue in smaller, more manageable pieces, with border security the first legislative step.
Despite Boehner's remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said "we remain optimistic about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in 2014."
He cited the "significant improvement" in US border security during Obama's presidency as measurable progress that Republicans could get behind.
"But look, nothing like this -- nothing as important, nothing as comprehensive -- ever comes fast or easy in Washington, so this won't be any different," Carney said.
Some far-right conservatives equate any legalization of undocumented migrants to "amnesty" and are unlikely to back a deal that legalizes them.
Even among House Republicans supportive of immigration reform, there is debate on its timing.
They must decide whether to move forward this year and risk an internal fight before November's congressional elections, or postpone the debate until next year and the run up to the 2016 presidential race, when Republicans will seek to win over Hispanic voters who have predominantly voted Democratic.
Boehner's remarks could be seen as a bitter blow to pro-immigration groups eager to see action this year.
The Fair Immigration Reform Movement warned that such a stall would come at "great peril to the Republican Party."
"What the speaker fails to realize is that every day without immigration reform is a day the Republican Party loses trust from Latino and immigrant communities," the group said.
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