WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said yesterday he wants to begin work this year on legislation overhauling the nation's immigration system, firming up his commitment on a key priority for Latino voters and lawmakers.
Obama's comments at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House reaffirmed his long-held support for immigration reform. He went a step further than in the past by calling for the work to begin this year.
Latino groups have been calling on him to deliver on his campaign promise of making immigration reform a top priority.
Obama clouded the issue last week by saying "there may not be an appetite" in Congress to deal with another hot-button issue. He acknowledged immigration reform would be difficult to achieve and would require bipartisan support. He made no commitment to finishing the process this year, but said it was the only way to deal with immigration problems.
"The way to fix our broken immigration system is through common-sense comprehensive immigration reform," the president said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who's up for re-election in a state with a growing Latino population, also recently said he wants to tackle immigration overhaul this year, although pending energy legislation would be likely to come first.
Again yesterday, Obama denounced the law passed in Arizona that requires police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they're in the country illegally. Some fear the law could lead to racial profiling, and Obama said federal officials were monitoring it for possible civil rights violations.
The president cited the Arizona law as a reason for action on immigration legislation.
"Make no mistake, our immigration system is broken, and after so many years in which Washington has failed to meet its responsibilities, Americans are right to be frustrated," Obama said. "Comprehensive reform - that's how we're going to solve this problem."
Meanwhile, the Tucson and Flagstaff city councils voted Tuesday to sue the state over the immigration law, citing concerns about enforcement costs and negative effects on the state's tourism industry.
Four lawsuits challenging the law were filed last week by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, a Washington-based researcher, and two policemen - one from Phoenix, the other from Tucson. They are suing as individuals, not challenging the law on behalf of their employers.