Fri, Apr 30, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Obama vows to push immigration overhaul this year


US President Barack Obama conceded on Wednesday that Congress may not have the appetite to deal with the hot-button immigration issue this year, but he vowed to continue to press lawmakers to at least begin work soon on a comprehensive bill to overhaul the country’s immigration system.

In a rare interview with reporters aboard Air Force One, Obama said it was vital that Congress address the immigration issue, lest more state measures like the tough new law in Arizona sprout up. However, he acknowledged that the road to a comprehensive immigration bill was an uphill one.

“It’s a matter of political will,” he said, adding that Congress might not have the stomach for another tough battle after the bruising fight over health care and the prospect of another battle over a climate change bill.

“We’ve gone through a very tough year, and I’ve been driving Congress pretty hard,” he said.

However, “we need to start a process, at least,” Obama said, adding that he wanted to come up with a proposal that could win broad public support.

To succeed, Obama said, he would need some backing from Republicans, a tough task in an election year.

“I’ve made calls to Republicans,” Obama said. “I think I can get a majority of Democrats, but I need some help from Republicans.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Democrat who is locked in a bruising re-election campaign in Nevada, has promised Hispanic voters in his state that he will take up immigration legislation this year, addressing both border security and citizenship.

On Wednesday, Reid told reporters that the climate change bill would probably come before immigration because that legislation had already been drafted.

Reid said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer had an outline of an immigration bill that could soon be completed.

The immigration issue has become a lightning rod for both Republicans and Democrats, who are embroiled in a fight over Arizona’s new law giving the police the authority to detain people they suspect are illegal immigrants.

Asked whether the White House, which has strongly criticized the bill as a possible infringement of civil rights, planned to challenge the measure, Obama said on Wednesday: “We’re examining it now.”

He said, “I understand the frustrations of the border states,” but said that is why the country needed a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Meanwhile, former US president Bill Clinton waded into the debate on Wednesday with the bravado of someone never facing election again.

“I don’t think there’s any alternative but for us to increase immigration,” he said, both to help the economy grow and to fix the long-term finances of Medicare and Social Security.

“I just don’t see a way out of this unless that’s part of the strategy,” he added in his remarks at a meeting on fiscal policy in Washington.

In related news, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders said it would file a lawsuit yesterday in Phoenix federal court, seeking to halt enforcement of the crackdown.

The group said federal law pre-empts state regulation of national borders, and that Arizona’s law violates due-process rights by allowing suspected illegal immigrants to be detained before they’re convicted.

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