“He is committed and will be leaning into this issue in a very serious and very vigorous way,” said Melody Barnes, Obama’s top domestic policy adviser.
The new effort comes as Obama starts his 2012 reelection campaign needing to rebuild support among Latinos, many of whom view immigration reform as critical. Obama won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2008, but some polls have shown that his approval ratings have dipped among this key electoral bloc.
High turnout among Latinos could help Obama win in states such as Colorado and Florida, although White House officials emphasize that they have long sought to reform immigration laws and are not pushing the issue only because of the 2012 campaign.
Barnes said the White House, aware of the opposition from congressional Republicans, will seek to build a coalition outside Washington that includes business leaders, law enforcement figures and others. Over the past few weeks, Obama has met with a range of people, most of whom back his vision for immigration reform, including former New York police commissioner William Bratton and “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria.
Immigration reform has not been a priority of the administration, at least compared with health-care reform and the economy. But last year, Obama did urge the passage of the so-called Dream Act, which would allow young people whose parents brought them to the United States illegally to gain citizenship eventually if they attended college or served in the military for at least two years.
The bill passed in December in the then-Democratic-controlled House, but was blocked in the Senate by a 55-41 vote, with most Republicans and a few Democrats saying the measure would reward illegal behavior. Republicans, now in control of the House, have expressed little desire to back Obama’s push.
“The speaker’s focused on creating jobs, cutting spending and lowering gas prices,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio.).
Latino activists and even some members of Congress have called for the adoption of a blanket policy that would not allow the deportations of any students who would qualify for the Dream Act. But Obama aides say that such a policy would be a unilateral decision by the administration and that they instead want to reach an agreement with Congress.