Obama launches push for immigration overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking swift action on immigration, President Barack Obama on Tuesday will try to rally public support

behind his proposals for giving millions of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, as well as making improvements to

the legal immigration system and border security.

The president will launch his push in a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, a day after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled

their own plan for addressing an issue that has languished in Washington for years.

Administration officials said Obama would

largely endorse the senators' efforts, though immigration advocates said

they expected

the president's own proposals to be more progressive than the

Senate group's plan, including a faster pathway to citizenship.

The simultaneous immigration campaigns were

spurred by the November presidential election, in which Obama won an

overwhelming

majority of Hispanic voters. The results caused Republican

lawmakers who had previously opposed immigration reform to reconsider

in order to rebuild the party's reputation among Hispanics, an

increasingly powerful political force.

Most of the recommendations Obama will make Tuesday are not new. He outlined an immigration blueprint in May 2011 but exerted

little political capital to get it passed by Congress, to the disappointment of many Hispanics.

Obama "will certainly note today the promising signs we've seen in Congress, most specifically the bipartisan principals put

together by the group of senators that mirror his own principals," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard

Air Force One en route to Nevada. "That is cause for hope. And what you'll hear from the president today is how we need to

take these initial positive steps and continue to move forward so that actual legislation is produced."

The president was to make his pitch in Nevada, a political battleground he carried in November, in large part because of support

from Hispanics in the state.

Nationally, Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, giving him a key advantage over Republican rival Mitt Romney.

Administration officials said the president

would bolster his 2011 immigration blueprint with some fresh details.

His original

plan centered on four key areas: a pathway to citizenship for the

11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., improved border

security, an overhaul of the legal immigration system, and an

easier process for businesses to verify the legal status of

workers.

Administration officials said they were encouraged to see the Senate backing the same broad principles. In part because of

the fast action on Capitol Hill, Obama does not currently plan to send lawmakers formal immigration legislation.

However, officials said the White House does have legislation drafted and could fall back on it should the Senate process

stall. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal strategy.

Carney said the president believes the package also should include recognition of gay couples where one partner is American

and another is not.

"The president has long believed that Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful

choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love," Carney said.

Sen. John McCain called the issue a "red flag" in an interview Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

The Arizona Republican also said he didn't think the issue was of "paramount importance at this time."

"We'll have to look at it," McCain said. But

he added that the highest priority is finding a "broad consensus"

behind the

immigration bill already being planned. He said the country must

do something about 11 million people "living in the shadows."

Obama's previous proposals for creating a

pathway to citizenship required those already in the U.S. illegally to

register

with the government and submit to security checks; pay

registration fees, a series of fines and back taxes; and learn English.

After eight years, individuals would be allowed to become legal

permanent residents and could eventually become citizens five

years later.

The Senate group's pathway to citizenship

for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. would be contingent upon

securing the

border and improving tracking of people in the U.S. on visas.

Linking citizenship to border security could become a sticking

point between the White House and lawmakers.

The Senate framework would also require

those here illegally to pass background checks and pay fines and taxes

in order to

qualify for a "probationary legal status" that would allow them to

live and work here — but not qualify for federal benefits

— before being able to apply for permanent residency, a critical

step toward citizenship. Once they are allowed to apply they

would do so behind everyone else already waiting for a green card

within the current immigration system.

Passage of legislation by the full Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, but the tallest hurdle could come in

the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who've shown little interest in immigration reform.

The senators involved in formulating the

immigration proposals, in addition to McCain, are Democrats Charles

Schumer of New

York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and

Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans Lindsey Graham

of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of

Arizona.

Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M.

Kennedy on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse

in the Senate when it couldn't get enough GOP support.