President Barack Obama jumped into the immigration debate on Wednesday, releasing a report touting economic benefits from reforms and meeting with Hispanic lawmakers, as House of Representatives Republicans gathered to try to craft their response.
The release of the White House report signaled a new outspokenness by Obama, who made immigration a top legislative priority but stayed on the sidelines of the debate that raged in the Senate in May and June. The report said passing reforms would grow the economy by 3.3 percent by 2023 and reduce the deficit by almost $850 billion over 20 years.
Obama also was scheduled to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as he launches an offensive to pressure hesitant Republicans in the House of Representatives to act on comprehensive immigration legislation this year.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner invited all 233 of his fellow House Republicans in his chamber to a two-hour meeting on Wednesday to discuss the bipartisan Senate bill that would give legal status to around 11 million undocumented residents and eventually allow them to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Boehner knows he will have a tough time convincing conservatives that the Senate approach is anything but amnesty for people who have broken the law after entering the United States illegally or overstaying their visas.
According to one House aide, Republican leaders will listen to ideas from members on how to proceed. The main question for now, the aide said, was whether any narrow immigration bill should be put to a vote by the full House before the August recess, when lawmakers will be home, facing their constituents.
Previewing Wednesday's meeting, Boehner told reporters on Tuesday that he would pursue a "step-by-step approach" to immigration and "the first big step is you have to have a serious border security" plan.
The comprehensive Senate-passed bill contained tough security measures with $46 billion in spending over 10 years to place 20,000 more agents at the U.S. border with Mexico and buy high-tech surveillance equipment.
Nevertheless, only 14 of the Senate's 46 Republicans voted for the bill and many House Republicans complain that the 11 million illegal residents would be mainstreamed into American society before the southwestern border is fully secured.
Last November's presidential election, in which Obama captured more than 70 percent of the growing Hispanic vote, was a wake-up call to Republican leaders that their party must do more to appeal to minorities.