President Obama plans a speech Tuesday in Texas on immigration reform.
President Obama will discuss the need for immigration reform Tuesday in El Paso
Republican leaders have opposed reform without tighter border controls
Immigration reform is believed to have little chance of clearing the GOP-controlled House
Both Democrats and Republicans view immigration as a potent political issue
Check out local reports on CNN affiliates KDBC and KVIA.
Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama heads to El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday to give a speech about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, part of an administration attempt to seize the initiative on a hot-button issue that has largely been ceded to state government leaders in recent months.
The speech is taking place amid intense political maneuvering by Democrats and Republicans seeking to use the issue to their own advantage in the 2012 election campaign.
Obama has held a series of meetings with key Latino officials and reform advocates in recent weeks. Despite an aggressive push for substantive policy changes from his political base, the president said he has ruled out acting on his own to implement provisions of a reform bill that failed to win congressional approval last year.
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At the same time, however, the president also signaled a shift in federal priorities. While continuing to highlight tougher border enforcement measures to national audiences, Obama noted during a recent Univision appearance that he has "redesigned our enforcement practices under the law to make sure that we're focusing primarily on criminals."
The deportation of noncriminals is declining "because we want to focus our resources on those folks who are destructive to the community," he said.
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Broad immigration reform "remains a priority" for the administration, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. There has been bipartisan support for reform in the past, he noted, and "we think we can build support for it again in the future."
The issue requires "focus," "education" and "persistence," Carney said. "The sooner it gets done, the better for the country."
Carney said Tuesday's speech is likely to highlight border security improvements and the economic costs stemming from a failure to change course. And senior administration officials said the speech will kick off a campaign-style effort to rally support for an overhaul and "to elevate the debate," as one put it.
"The president is leaning in and asking others to lean in with him in order to create the environment that spurs congressional action," said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. Obama wants to create "a sense of urgency around the country that matches his sense of urgency," the official said.
El Paso Mayor John Cook told CNN he hopes the president will use the speech to make a strong push for more agents at border crossing points.
Obama has "already done a lot of work" to put "additional boots on the ground" along the border, Cook said Tuesday. But the number of customs agents near El Paso has remained the same since 2005 while the overall volume of trade with Mexico has risen substantially, he noted.
In terms of more extensive immigration reform, Cook said there "doesn't have to be a pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants. There should, however, be at least "a pathway to legalization."
Let's "get these folks -- (roughly) 12 million people -- out of the shadows," he said. "Get them to come out and have their place in the United States be legal."
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Republican leaders have indicated an unwillingness to consider broader changes -- including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- until the Mexican border is brought under tighter control.
But another administration official who took part in Monday afternoon's briefing said border controls have been tightened up, and, "It's time now to begin taking up the immigration reform issue as well."
"We are not going to resolve this issue with border enforcement alone," the official said.
Conservative frustration has boiled over in recent months in the form of a rash of state-level proposals to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants. Key parts of an Arizona law requiring police officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other statutes were recently blocked by the federal courts.
The Justice Department sued Arizona, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to dictate immigration policy. Federal district and appellate judges have blocked that provision of the law, and the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case Monday.
Progressive reform advocates, meanwhile, have been frustrated by Congress's inability to pass the DREAM Act, which would offer legal standing to immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years.
The bill would require, among other things, a high school or General Educational Development diploma, two years of college or military service, and criminal background checks.
Advocates say the bill would give legal standing to young people brought to the United States by their parents who have bettered themselves and served their new country.
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One Latino advocacy group -- Presente.org -- released a statement Tuesday blasting Obama for failing to issue an executive order stopping the deportation of young undocumented immigrants until legislation such as the DREAM Act is passed.
"All we have heard from President Obama are empty speeches," the statement said. "Today in El Paso ... we expect no different."
Republican opponents equate the measure to amnesty, and have said it would signal to the world that the United States is not serious about enforcing its laws or its borders. They have also called the bill unfair to immigrants who, in many cases, waited years to come to the country legally.
"The president will have to present a plan that takes amnesty off the table and focuses, instead, on making a real commitment to border and interior security," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday morning.
"If the president does these two things, he will find strong bipartisan support. If he doesn't, he won't."
The DREAM Act was defeated by a Republican filibuster in the Senate last December after winning passage in the House of Representatives. Most analysts believe it has little chance of clearing the GOP-controlled House now.
Regardless, the immigration issue remains politically potent. Obama won several Western states in 2008 -- including Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada -- partly on the rising power of the Latino vote. Democrats believe Hispanic voters might put traditionally Republican Arizona in play next year.
In the long run, Democrats are also hoping to use their advantage among Hispanics to make inroads in core GOP states such as Texas.
Obama won more than two-thirds of the nationwide Hispanic vote in 2008. His approval rating among Hispanics hovered around 68 percent during the first three months of this year, according to the most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls.
For their part, Republicans have depended on the immigration issue in the past to fire up conservative voters. Some analysts also believe that if Democrats push too hard, too fast on immigration, particularly in tough economic times, it could push swing voters toward the GOP.
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