WASHINGTON U.S. President Barack Obama plans to start addressing the thorny issue of immigration reform this year, including the search for a path to legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, quoting a presidential aide.
Obama will speak publicly about the matter in May and bring together working groups including Democratic and Republican lawmakers over the summer to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as the fall, administration officials told the Times.
Obama will present his drive as "policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system," the Times quoted Cecilia Munoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House, as saying.
"He intends to start the debate this year," it quoted Munoz as saying.
"But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight," the Times said.
Americans are sharply divided over how to deal with 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Hard-liners say illegal immigrants are a drain on the country's resources and want them deported.
Two years ago, Obama, then a Democratic senator, backed immigration reform proposed by former President George W. Bush that sought tougher border controls and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Bush's fellow Republicans in the U.S. Congress killed the proposal.
During his campaign for the White House, Obama pledged to support immigration reform. He received strong backing from Hispanics in the November election.
"Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs," the Times said.
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; editing by Eric Beech)