Continued from page 1

Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders, though, argue legalizing illegal immigrants has to be done at the same time, both for workability and because they fear if the borders are secured first, it might sap momentum from the push for legalization.

“Our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols,” Mr. Obama said. “It won’t work.”

Mr. Obama called on Republicans to return to the consensus he said existed several years ago around immigration, and particularly criticized 11 Senate Republicans who have voted for immigration bills in the past.

But it’s unclear how solid that consensus was.

A bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate in 2006, but the Republican-controlled House insisted on border security instead.

The Senate tried again in 2007, under Democratic control, but a majority of senators, including more than a dozen Democrats, joined a filibuster against the bill.

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and former chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship in the Bush administration, said there was a core bipartisan coalition in those years, but said it was built on a real compromise that included border security and a guest-worker program for future workers, as well as legalization of illegal immigrants.

“Sadly, instead of building on that coalition, this has done away with the coalition that existed, Mr. Aguilar said after Mr. Obama’s speech. He also said Mr. Obama’s record of outreach pales compared with the efforts President George W. Bush made on immigration in 2006 and 2007.

“There hasn’t been a serious effort by this president to reach out to Republicans. Calling Scott Brown from Air Force One or summoning Senator [Lindsey] Graham to the White House is not working in a bipartisan way,” he said. “We haven’t seen the leadership from the president.”

Immigration rights activists were generally happy with the speech, saying it touched on the issues they wanted to hear.

“We have been waiting for the president to lean forward and push with us on the immigration issue the same way he did as a presidential candidate. We hope this is the start of a sustained push,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.

But some advocates said Mr. Obama could have gone further and halted some of the Bush administration-era enforcement policies that have continued.

“If, as he acknowledged himself, the immigration system is fundamentally flawed, he has the responsibility not to pour salt on the wound by continuing to pursue the failed policies of enforcement-only that further disrupt families, communities, and business, but fail to fix the problem,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Mr. Obama specifically ruled out putting a halt to deportations, saying that “would be both unwise and unfair.”