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President Obama Renews Push For Immigration Reform, Praises Bipartisan Plan


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, President Obama renewed his push for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. He told an audience in Las Vegas that it's time to finally deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants who are living in the shadows now. The president's speech comes one day after a bipartisan group of senators outlined their own plan for immigration reform.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now the good news is that, for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. Members of both parties in both chambers are actively working on a solution.

BLOCK: Both the president's proposal and the Senate version include a qualified path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Las Vegas. And, Scott, it's no accident that the president chose to give this speech there in Las Vegas.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, Melissa. Obviously, there's places he could have gone closer to Washington that have plenty of immigrants, but this is really meant to underscore the new electoral map that Latinos are helping to draw in this country. President Obama won 70 percent Latino vote nationwide, an even higher percentage here in Nevada, and this is one of the states where that lopsided margin helped carry the president to re-election.

And that flexing of political muscle by Latinos is why immigration is suddenly on the front burner not only for Democrats, but also Republicans, who don't want to let this fast-growing voting bloc slip away to the Democrats for possibly years to come.

BLOCK: Now the political calculation is interesting here. There was a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws that languished during the president's first term, and one key question is does the electoral math predict a different outcome this time?

HORSLEY: Yeah, there's no guarantees. I mean, it obviously will need support from some Senate Republicans to get out of the Senate. Interestingly, two of the four Republicans who are part of the bipartisan group - John McCain and Jeff Flake - are from nearby Arizona, which is seeing some of the same demographic trends we saw here in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico.

A big question mark is what's going to happen in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. A lot of GOP House members still represent districts that are whiter than the rest of the country, and they may not feel the same sense of political urgency, at least for themselves, and may feel it on behalf of their party in national elections. So a question mark is what might happen in the House of Representatives.

BLOCK: Well, Scott, what are some of the details? What does the president's plan include?

HORSLEY: Well, the president really hasn't changed a lot of his plan since he talked about it back in 2011. It continued improvements to border security, coupled with better work site enforcement and an improved system for employers to check the immigration status of their workers. The president also wants to update legal immigration, make it easier, for example, for high-skilled workers to get into the country.

But the big-ticket item, of course, is that path to citizenship for the millions who are in the country illegally. That's also in the Senate proposal, although in the Senate proposal, that would be conditioned on a certification that border security had been achieved. That's not part of the president's plan, and the White House has not said whether the president would make an issue over that.

BLOCK: When you talked to people in the audience there today in Las Vegas, Scott, how did they respond? These are the president's supporters there, but what did they tell you?

HORSLEY: Supporters of the president and supporters of an overhaul of the immigration law, and they are cautiously optimistic. I spoke to one activist who said when they were marching in the streets back in 2006, a lot of people didn't take them seriously. But now that they've flexed their muscle at the ballot box, they are being taken seriously, and they feel good about that. At the same time, a lot of these activists are veterans of Bush-era fights over immigration when the reforms were beaten back. And so they're not counting any chickens just yet.

BLOCK: OK. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley traveling today with the president. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.