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President Obama calls for immigration reform, including path to legalization for illegal immigrants

July 1, 2010 |  9:08 am

In his first major speech on the issue, President Obama on Thursday called for immigration reform legislation that would include a pathway to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants but said it could not happen without Republican support.  

“We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair and reflective of our values and works,” Obama said in his speech at American University. “The question now is do we have the courage and political will to pass a bill through Congress and finally get it done.

“I’m ready to move forward. But the fact is without bipartisan support we cannot solve this problem. We cannot pass comprehensive reform without Republican votes. That is a political and mathematical reality.”

To bolster his argument, Obama noted that the number of border patrol officers along the country’s Southwest border is greater than it’s ever been and that crime along the border and the number of illegal crossers is down.

“The border is more secure today than at any time in the last 20 years,” he said.

But Obama said that more needed to be done to improve enforcement. He also said that those who broke the law to enter the country must get right with the law by registering with the government and paying fines.

“Our country has a right to control its border and set laws for residency and citizenship,” he said.

But Obama was short on specifics for legislative reforms, including a timeline for action. So far no bill has been introduced in the Senate.

As recently as May, Obama said he merely wanted to "begin work" on immigration this year -- not complete a bill. But this week he has approached the issue with renewed urgency.

He spoke to immigration advocates at the White House on Monday. Latino lawmakers who have criticized the White House for neglecting immigration said they were pleased.

But advocates have heard assurances before. And with conservatives energized, angry and likely to storm to the polls, Democrats fear they will lose even more seats in Congress than a president's party typically does at the halfway point in his term.

In addition, if Republicans make major gains in November, an immigration overhaul could be impossible in 2011 or 2012.

While running for president, Obama pledged to act on immigration in 2009. That deadline came and went. But Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008 and has no wish to alienate a growing constituency.

Raising the issue anew allows Obama to mollify his Latino supporters. But it also puts Republicans in a tough spot. Neither party can afford to write off a Latino community whose influence is growing.

-- Anna Gorman and Peter Nicholas

Photo: People gathered at the Los Angeles office of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles to hear President Obama speaking on the immigration issue. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times