Obama pushes U.S. House Republicans on immigration

Updated: 2013-07-11 08:06


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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama jumped into the immigration debate on Wednesday by releasing a report touting economic benefits from reforms and meeting with Hispanic lawmakers, as Republican lawmakers gathered to try to craft their response.

The release of the White House report signaled a new engagement by Obama, who has made immigration a top legislative priority but stayed on the sidelines of the debate that raged in the Senate in May and June.

The report said passing reforms would expand the economy 3.3 percent by 2023 and reduce the federal deficit by almost $850 billion over 20 years.

Obama also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as he launches an offensive to pressure hesitant Republicans in the House of Representatives to act on comprehensive immigration legislation this year.

"He said he was open to do anything we thought in Congress would be helpful," Democratic Representative Xavier Becerra said following the White House meeting.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner invited all 233 of his fellow House Republicans to a two-hour meeting to discuss the bipartisan Senate bill to give legal status to around 11 million undocumented residents and eventually allow them to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The Democratic-led Senate passed the sweeping immigration bill at the end of June. But the legislation's fate is unclear in the Republican-controlled House.

Immigration advocacy groups said they hoped the meeting would bring clarity on whether enough House Republicans want to try to pass some sort of bipartisan bill this year.

Boehner is likely to have a tough time convincing conservatives that the Senate approach is anything other than amnesty for people who have broken the law after entering the United States illegally or overstaying their visas.

Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who helped write the Senate-passed bill and served 12 years in the House, told Reuters: "It's hard not to be discouraged right now."

A House aide said Republicans must decide whether a narrow immigration bill should be put to a vote by the full House before the August recess, when lawmakers will be home and facing their constituents.

Such bills could deal with border security, identifying and punishing those here illegally or helping U.S. high-tech firms hire more skilled labor from abroad.

The Senate bill calls for tough security measures with $46 billion in spending over 10 years to put 20,000 more agents at the U.S. border with Mexico and buy high-tech surveillance equipment.

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