MEXICO CITY —
The latter issue is being closely watched in Mexico, given the large number of Mexicans who have emigrated to the U.S. both legally and illegally. More than half of the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally are Mexican, according to the Pew Research Center.
For Obama, the immigration debate is rife with potential political pitfalls. While he views an overhaul of the nation's patchwork immigration laws as a legacy-building issue, he's been forced to keep a low-profile role in the debate to avoid scaring off wary Republicans.
In an effort to court those GOP lawmakers, the draft bill being debated on Capitol Hill focuses heavily on securing the border with Mexico, and makes doing so a pre-condition for a pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. But Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the bill's architects, said Thursday that unless the border security measures are made even tougher, the legislation will face tough odds not only in the GOP-controlled House but also in the Democratic-led Senate.
The president acknowledged there were some areas along the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico where security needs to be tightened. But he gently chided Rubio and other Republicans for putting up obstacles that would derail final legislation.
"I suspect that the final legislation will not contain everything I want. It won't contain everything that Republican leaders want, either," Obama said. He added that "what I'm not going to do is to go along with something where we're looking for an excuse not to do it as opposed to a way to do it."
Despite the intense interest in the immigration debate among Mexicans, Pena Nieto carefully avoided injecting himself in the issue. While he commended the U.S. for tackling the challenge, he said the congressional debate "is a domestic affair."