Obama talks up immigration reform 

Pushing for a trifecta on his reform agenda, President Obama will call for a new focus on revamping immigration policy and calling on Republicans to work with him.

Immigration reform "In the past has been something that members of both parties have worked on," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a preview of Obama's upcoming speech. "One party alone cannot solve this problem."

The Justice Department is expected to file suit soon challenging Arizona's new immigration law, which goes into effect at the end of July. On Thursday, Obama will headline an immigration town hall at American University.

"We cannot have immigration reform passed individually by each state through a patchwork of laws," Gibbs said.

The White House so far has seen success with health care reform and is close to a deal on Wall Street reform -- but immigration reform in an election year is a notable political gamble.

Obama on met privately with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, many of whom have been pushing for an overhaul of immigration laws.

Obama had promised Hispanic groups he would make immigration reform a priority of his first year in office, but later backtracked -- saying the economic meltdown and other issues had to take precedence.

The meeting with lawmakers comes a day after Obama met with grass-roots immigration activists, telling the group he will call for reform that includes securing the border and creating a path to citizenship for those currently in the country illegally.

Democrats and the White House think immigration could be a strong election year issue for them, in part because immigration debates draw strong contrasts between the two parties and energize Hispanic voters.

Obama recently authorized sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border -- a move that did little to bring Republicans on board with a plan to review immigration this year.

But the contemplated lawsuit against Arizona makes Obama's immigration gambit trickier. Obama has been critical of the law, which allows police to question the immigration status of anyone they detain, and requires immigrants to carry paperwork proving they are legal residents.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found nearly six in 10 support the Arizona law, and 75 percent said the United States is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration. Fifty-seven percent, however, said they support giving illegal immigrants a chance to earn their citizenship.

Overall, 51 percent said they disapprove of Obama's handling of the issue, to 39 percent who approve.

"It's unacceptable to have 11 million people in the United States who are living here illegally and outside of the system," Obama said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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Julie Mason

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