The White House on Monday disputed a Republican senator's claim that President Barack Obama refuses to secure the Mexican border until Congress agrees to a wide-ranging overhaul of immigration laws.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona told a Tea Party gathering in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday of his recent private meeting with Obama in the Oval Office. Kyl, the Senate's second-ranking GOP leader, said he pressed Obama to secure the border against illegal immigrants.
Kyl told the group: "The problem is, he said, 'If we secure the border, then you all won't have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform.'"
"They want to get something in return for doing their duty," Kyl told the group.
The White House denied the account over the weekend, and Obama spokesman Bill Burton restated that position Monday when questioned by reporters.
"The president didn't say that," Burton said of Kyl's account. "Sen. Kyl knows the president didn't say that."
Asked if Kyl was lying or indulging in "political exaggeration," Burton replied: "I'll let other folks make that determination."
Obama has taken steps to improve border security, while also saying security must be part of a broader approach to immigration. He recently pledged to spend an additional $500 million on security and to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border.
The White House website says Obama "believes that our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a complete solution that secures our border, enforces our laws, and reaffirms our heritage as a nation of immigrants."
Obama told CNN's Larry King on June 3, "We've already put more resources into border security than we ever have."
He added: "But without comprehensive immigration reform that is Congress' responsibility we are not going to solve this problem, and that's what we have to do."
Kyl spokesman Ryan Patmintra said the senator stands by his remarks. He said the White House position "that we must have comprehensive immigration reform to secure the border only confirms Sen. Kyl's account."