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Obama presses immigration in campaign-like speech

EL PASO, Texas -- Expect to hear a lot more about immigration in the next two years, but not because anything is likely to get done on Capitol Hill.

In a speech that had all the hallmarks of a campaign -- the hand shaking, the outdoor event, chants of “Yes, we can” -- President Obama sought to build a “movement” around comprehensive immigration reform.

“We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast,” Obama said here steps from the U.S.-Mexico border. “That’s how we’ll get this done.”

And there were plenty of political shots to go around, especially for Republicans.

"We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement," Obama said. "But even though we've answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They'll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They'll say we need a higher fence to support reform. Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.

"They'll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That's politics."

The president, however -- in his first trip here to the border since taking office -- did not offer any new details on what he would like to see in an immigration-reform bill, nor did he press a timeline. (The specifics he offered today were similar to what was offered in his July 2010 speech.) Aboard Air Force One earlier today, NBC’s Athena Jones reports that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he would not preview their legislative strategy.

One thing is clear, pressing this issue publicly is important to Obama’s reelection chances. Hispanics are the largest-growing group in the country, according to 2010 Census data. They now comprise 16% of the U.S. population, yet they comprised just 9% of the 2008 electorate. And they broke overwhelmingly for Obama, 67%-31%.

President Obama also talked about how immigrants have made great contributions to the country – in creating businesses like Intel and Google, that they, for the most part, come to America looking for work and to help their families. But he tried to strike a moderate tone, again saying immigrants who came here illegally and broke the rules need to pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line.

“Everyone recognizes the system is broken,” Obama said. “The question is, will we summon the political will to do something about it?”

He blamed “politics,” “rhetoric,” and “Washington games” on why comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t passed in Congress.

“The question is whether those in Congress who previously walked away in the name of enforcement are now ready to come back to the table and finish the work we’ve started,” the president said. “We have to put the politics aside. And if we do, I’m confident we can find common ground. Washington is behind the country on this.”

He continued, “[T]there is a consensus around fixing what’s broken. Now we need Congress to catch up to a train that’s leaving the station.”

The president now heads to Austin, Texas, for two fundraisers for his reelection.