Immigration reform tough during crisis, Biden says

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at the Presidential house in San Jose March 30, 2009. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - The economic slump and soaring unemployment in the United States mean this is not a good time to push immigration reform, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Central American leaders on Monday.

“It’s difficult to tell a constituency while unemployment is rising, they’re losing their jobs and their homes, that what we should do is in fact legalize (illegal immigrants) and stop all deportation,” Biden told a news conference in the Costa Rican capital.

President Barack Obama said during his election campaign that he supported comprehensive immigration reform, as countries like Mexico have been urging for years.

Some 12 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, many from Mexico and Central America. The economic crisis has made many U.S. workers more hostile to legalizing those without papers.

“We believe, the president and I, that this problem can only be solved in the context of an overall immigration reform,” Biden said, asked about the chances of extending temporary migrant protection programs.

“We need some forbearance as we try to put together a comprehensive approach to deal with this.”

Biden was in Costa Rica to meet Central American leaders at an informal regional summit.

A comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws -- including plans for a guest worker program -- was killed off by Republicans in the U.S. Senate in 2007, although many Central Americans have been able to stay in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, system.

Reporting by John McPhaul; Editing by Eric Beech