Washington: US President Barack Obama will
seek on Wednesday to "elevate" the toxic US debate over illegal
immigration, in an apparent bid also to appease Hispanic
voters who will be crucial to his 2012 re-election bid.
Obama headed to El Paso, Texas, in his first visit to
the porous southern US border as president, to highlight his
efforts secure the frontier with Mexico and to call for a
route to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
"He is trying to lead a constructive and civil debate
on the need to fix America`s immigration system," said a
senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead
of the president`s major speech.
"He is hoping to elevate the debate," said the
El Paso is situated on the Rio Grande, across the
border with Mexico, the departure point for millions of
illegal immigrants who penetrated the US border, but have no
legal status in the United States.
Comprehensive immigration reform has sparked furious
and bitter debate in the United States in recent years -- the
last attempt to enact comprehensive change by then president
George W Bush in his second term ended in failure.
If anything, the prospects for reform -- with US
presidential and congressional elections looming next year --
appear even less promising now.
"We are going to continue to be forceful about this in
order to create space in the Congress," said another official.
"Part of what you will hear him give is a call to
action to the rest of the country to create the momentum we
need to get this over the top."
The parameters of immigration reform appear clear --
what is difficult is moving the debate forward.
Many leaders believe a path to citizenship needs
eventually to be laid out for 10.8 million illegal immigrants
and their offspring, with some price to be paid for entering
the country illegally.
The concessions to immigrants would be matched by a
redoubled border enforcement regime and attempts to punish US
employers who use illegal labour.
Many Republicans insist the border must first be
secured ahead of reform efforts leading many observers to feel
reform has almost no chance and that Obama is therefore
seeking a political payoff from discussing immigration.
Immigration reform is an article of faith for Hispanic
voters who are becoming an increasingly important demographic
in presidential elections.