President Barack Obama plans to launch his second-term push for a U.S. immigration overhaul during a visit to Nevada next week in a bid to win congressional approval of a reform package this year, the White House said on Friday.
Obama, who met leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, plans to use a trip to Las Vegas on Tuesday to "redouble our efforts to make to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
He said Obama's proposals would largely be based on a "blueprint" the president put forth in a policy speech he delivered on the border near El Paso, Texas, in 2011, but which never made it into legislation.
Immigration reform, an issue that was largely sidelined in Obama's first term, is part of an ambitious liberal agenda the president laid out in his second inaugural address on Monday.
The chances of a bipartisan agreement to revamp the U.S. immigration system are looking brighter despite the strong political passions that surround the issue.
Obama wants a deal and so do Republicans in Congress, after having seen Hispanics vote overwhelmingly for the president and his fellow Democrats in the Nov. 6 election. Republicans have alienated many Latinos with hardline rhetoric on how to deal with illegal immigration.
"We are encouraged by efforts under way in Congress to move forward on this issue, to address it in a bipartisan way," Carney told reporters. "It is certainly a top legislative priority for the president."
Carney said Obama, in his Las Vegas appearance, would push the broad proposals he laid out in 2011 and which have long been embedded on the White House's official Web site.
"The president's commitment to immigration reform has been very clear for some time," Carney said.
RENEWING OBAMA BLUEPRINT
Obama's earlier plan called for creating a path for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States to earn citizenship.
Some Republicans have argued that this would amount to amnesty for lawbreakers, but administration officials have denied that, saying it would include fines, payment of back taxes and other hurdles to obtain legal status.
Obama's previous proposals also called for strict border enforcement, tough penalties for businesses that hire illegal workers and creation of a guest worker program to meet agricultural labor needs.
Last summer, Obama took executive action so that the federal government stopped seeking to deport certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children - a dramatic change that was celebrated in the Hispanic community and was seen as key to his re-election hopes that November.
At his White House meeting with Democratic Hispanic lawmakers, Obama said "there is no excuse for stalling or delay" on immigration reform and promised to lead on the issue.
"The president will be traveling to Nevada on Tuesday to redouble the administration's efforts to work with Congress to fix the broken immigration system this year," the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra of California, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said afterwards: "Immigration reform is not a matter of 'if' but 'when.' Now is the time and this is our moment. After today's meeting, it's clear that President Obama is determined to fix our long broken immigration system."
Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who has been part of Senate talks on immigration reforms, was also present.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican often mentioned as a future presidential contender, has also begun work on the issue and the White House has voiced interest in hearing more about his ideas.
Some political analysts have said that Republicans must seize the chance to help achieve immigration reform or else forfeit the chance of gaining significant Latino electoral support for a generation or more.
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