May 10th, 2011
06:33 AM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - When President Obama heads to El Paso,Texas Tuesday he’ll be pushing comprehensive immigration reform and calling on Congress for a bi-partisan effort to fix the problem.
“He’s going to make the case that legislation is the root to reform here and to press for legislative action,” said one of three senior administration officials who briefed reporters ahead of the president’s trip.
The president is expected to call for action “as soon as possible,” the officials said, but he won’t lay down a deadline.
While officials admit that there are “significant obstacles” in a divided Congress, they said that inaction is not an option.
“We do not accept the argument that since there are some in Congress that are unwilling to act that we outta just wash our hands of trying to get this done.”
President Obama made immigration a centerpiece of his 2008 campaign. He promised reform and told Hispanic groups that he would “make it a top priority” in his first year as president.
But so far he has failed to move this issue in a meaningful way.
“We weren’t able to achieve it in the first part of this term,” admitted White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Last week, after a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the White House said in a statement that the president would “intensify efforts to lead a civil debate on this issue in the coming weeks and month.”
Ali Noorani, executive director of National Immigration Forum, said despite cynicism in Washington, there’s mounting pressure -from the immigrant community and business community-on both Democrats and Republicans to resolve the immigration problem.
“What remains to be seen is what is possible. Politics is the art of the possible and I think the president is leaning into this issue."
Looming over this issue is the 2012 election.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Poll shows the president's approval rating among Hispanics has dropped since early in his administration. It now stands at 68% compared to 76% from April to June 2009.
“The president needs the Hispanic vote as much as the Republicans need it,” Noorani said.
During his visit to El Paso, the president is expected to tour a cargo facility, get an update on security at the Southwest border, and talk about successful efforts to pump more resources into the region and seize contraband, the officials said.
“The border is as secure as it has ever been,” said a senior administration official.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday that comprehensive immigration reform remained a “priority of the president.”
While Carney refused to predict the odds of legislation passing Congress, he said the administration was optimistic.
“He takes on hard things because he believes they’re important to get done.”