President Obama on Monday promised immigrant-rights advocates he will soon deliver a major speech urging Republicans and Democrats to work together on an immigration bill this year.
In a meeting at the White House with advocates, Mr. Obama said he wants Congress to act as soon as possible, the White House said after the closed-door meeting.
The groups, who have been disappointed with the slow pace of action and with many of the enforcement tactics Mr. Obama has continued from the Bush administration, said they believe the president is committed to their issue, but said he needs to do more.
“We raised our concerns about the urgently needed reforms to the harsh and draconian detention and deportation mechanisms that are tearing apart families and communities under his watch,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, who said they will continue to keep pressure on.
Immigration is one of the thorniest issues facing Mr. Obama and Congress, and the president will face another test soon when his Justice Department decides whether to sue to overturn Arizona’s tough new immigration law.
Polls show the law has the backing of a majority of Americans, but advocacy groups argue only the federal government should police immigration status.
In 2007, the last time Congress tackled a broad immigration bill that included legalizing illegal immigrants, a majority of senators opposed the measure and defeated it on a filibuster. At the time, President Bush and other backers said voters weren’t convinced that the government would follow through on enforcement.
Mr. Obama last month announced he would deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, but Congress is looking to outbid him. A Senate committee approved posting up to 6,000 National Guard troops on the border.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama had indicated he wanted to sign a legalization bill during his first year in office, but that deadline slipped.
Part of the problem is that even though Democrats control both the House and Senate, they are not unified on the issue, and Mr. Obama must rely on some Republican support.
What support he did have on immigration seemed to disappear after Democrats pushed through their health care bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who had been working on a bill with Democrats, said using the budget process to push through the final version of the health care bill had poisoned the well.