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Obama urges Republican-led House to pass immigration overhaul

Herbert Crooks (Panama) (R) says the Pledge of Allegiance after he swears in as United States citizen during a Special Naturalization Ceremo
Herbert Crooks (Panama) (R) says the Pledge of Allegiance after he swears in as United States citizen during a Special Naturalization Ceremo

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama stepped into the fray in the U.S. Congress over immigration on Saturday, urging Americans to press the Republican-led House of Representatives to approve a plan that is at risk of stalling.

Obama used his weekly address to make his case for an immigration overhaul that was approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate and would create a pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million people living illegally in the United States.

The president has been treading carefully on the issue so as not to antagonize Republicans who adamantly oppose the immigration plan but may find it politically necessary to help attract Hispanic voters in future elections.

"Now the House needs to act so I can sign common-sense immigration reform into law," Obama said. "And if you agree, tell your Representatives that now is the time. Call or email or post on their Facebook walls and ask them to get this done."

In his address, Obama seized on comments from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who this week threw his support behind the overhaul effort. Obama has often criticized Bush in the past but the two men are in agreement on this issue.

"If Democrats and Republicans - including President Bush and I - can agree on something, that's a pretty good place to start," Obama said.

The White House says immigration reform would boost the U.S. economy, contending in a report this week that it would help the economy grow by 3.3 percent by 2023 and reduce the budget deficit by $850 billion over 20 years.

"If we don't do anything to fix our broken system, our workforce will continue to shrink as baby boomers retire," Obama said.

Republicans in the House have vowed not to take up the Senate bill approved two weeks ago but instead want to work on immigration in a piecemeal fashion, with a priority on improved security along the U.S.-Mexican border.

House Speaker John Boehner has the tough job of convincing conservatives that the Senate approach is anything but amnesty for people who have broken the law after entering the United States illegally or overstaying their visas.

While the conservative opposition has put the legislation in doubt, proponents still see a chance that an immigration overhaul can be approved in the weeks and months ahead.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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