Obama might accept immigration bill without help for same-sex couples

McClatchy Foreign StaffMay 3, 2013 

— President Barack Obama said Friday he might accept a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws even if it did not allow tens of thousands of same-sex couples to apply for legal status for their foreign-born partners.

Obama, on a visit to Central America in part to tout his support of an immigration overhaul, backs the inclusion for same-sex couples, but would not say if he would veto a bill without it.

“I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill,” he said. “Republicans aren’t going to get everything they want in this bill.”

But, Obama said, the legislation introduced in the Senate “has the opportunity to do something historic that we haven’t done in decades.”

Obama and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla spoke to reporters in San Jose following a series of private meetings about energy, education and trade.

Later Friday, Obama and Chinchilla were dining with leaders who comprise a Central American group designed to promoted cooperation – Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama and the Dominican. United States and Mexico participate as regional observers.

The quick 24-hour visit to Costa Rica is Obama’s first trip here. In the capital city, everyone from taxi cab drivers to waiters seemed to know Obama was arriving.

“Welcome President Barack Obama. We, Costa Ricans, are delighted to have you,” a huge white banner read.

Costa Ricans are accustomed to visits by U.S. presidents, though the last one was in 1997 by Bill Clinton.

Obama’s three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica was focused on expanding economic ties, but the United States’ on-going attempts to pass a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws were never far behind.

President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador planned to address U.S. immigration laws in the group meeting with Obama because it would affect both his nation and the region as a whole. “On our part, there is optimism for the approval of the reform, but the decision rests entirely with the U.S. authorities,” according a statement from the El Salvadoran government..

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has unveiled a proposal that would offer a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, many of whom come from Central America.

Obama said the legislation includes his four requirements – border security, restrictions on employers, a legal immigration program and pathway to citizenship – and that he will determine whether to support the legislation based on whether it makes the system better. If there are problems, he said he would attempt to fix them at a later date. “As is true with every bill, we go back at back and fix what’s not there,’’ he said.

Obama, who is extremely popular in Central America, was welcomed enthusiastically by residents and leaders even though other regions of the world have taken priority in his first term.

On a brewing crisis across the globe, Obama said he is still looking at whether to take more aggressive action in Syria but that he does not believe it would be beneficial to the United States or Syria to send in U.S. troops.

“We’re standing by,” he said. “We are working to apply every pressure point we can. We are actively engaged on a day-to-day basis.”

Last week, the White House acknowledged for the first time that the United States had received some evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons.

Obama has said that the use of chemicals weapons would cross a “red line” and lead to greater intervention, but for days he has urged caution as the United States tries, along with its allies, to get information about the chemical weapon use.

“We don’t know when, where or how,” Obama said. “We can expect we’re going to get additional further evidence.”

Many Central American scholars had hoped Obama would address the growing problem of violent crime in Central America – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in particular. If he did so, it was largely behind closed doors. When asked about the issue, both Obama and Chinchilla said that preventing and halting crime includes bolstering education and economy programs.

Obama began his day in Mexico City, where he stressed the need to change to U.S. immigration rules so that “immigrants get on the right side of the law.”

Speaking in the plaza of a museum holding Mexico’s most treasured archaeological relics, Obama hailed the contributions of Mexican immigrants to the United States and acknowledged that the strong support of Hispanics helped lift him to the presidency.

Kumar reported from Costa Rica; Johnson from Mexico

VIDEO:In Mexico, Obama calls for US immigration reform

Email: akumar@mcclatchydc.com, tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @anitakumar01, @timjohnson4

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