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Obama presses immigration

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama will seek to build momentum for immigration reform this week before his State of the Union address, which is expected to challenge Republicans to take up an overhaul amid an increasingly contentious debate in Washington.

Obama is planning a series of White House meetings with corporate chief executives, labor leaders and progressives on Tuesday to lobby for their support, and he has dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the Southwest to tout the administration's border security efforts.

The flurry of activity occurs amid disagreement between the Democratic president and many Republicans over the question of citizenship for illegal immigrants, an obstacle that could make it hard to reach a final deal on sweeping legislation.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, will address immigration reform and other issues in a speech on Tuesday to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

In excerpts to that speech, Cantor walks a fine line on citizenship for those in the United States illegally: “We must balance respect for the rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally, with care for people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life and contribute to America,” he said.

Obama is expected to use his Feb. 12 State of the Union speech to keep the heat on Republicans, who appear more willing to accept an immigration overhaul since being chastened by Latino voters' rejection in the November election.

Obama wants to give America's 11 million illegal immigrants a clear process to achieve citizenship, including payment of fines, criminal background checks and going to the “back of the line” behind legal applicants. He has vowed to introduce his own bill if Congress fails to act in a timely fashion.

But top Republicans want to defer citizenship until the county's borders are deemed more secure — a linkage that Obama and most of his fellow Democrats find hard to accept.

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