Michelle Obama to address Latino group amid immigration debate

BETHESDA, MD - APRIL 04: To kick off the Month of the Military Child, first lady Michelle Obama participates in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and children at the Fisher House on Walter Reed National Military Medical Center April 4, 2012 in Bethesda, Maryland. The Fisher Houses are "comfort homes" that enable family members to be close to their military loved one during hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury. Obama delivered Easter candies, visited with military children and gave away tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll during the visit. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Chip Somodevilla

As leaders in Washington work behind the scenes on a compromise over comprehensive immigration reform, First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday will deliver the keynote address to one of the nation's largest gatherings of Latino leaders.

On the final day of the National Council of La Raza's annual conference, the first lady is slated to talk about a much safer issue, politically speaking -- the problem of childhood obesity. Her speech, however, caps off a three-day conference marked by passionate calls for congressional action on immigration reform, one of President Obama's top second-term priorities.

"Our community is eager to hear from such a prominent and passionate public figure who, in her time as first lady, has shown unwavering commitment to important causes for the growing Latino community such as children's health, nutrition and education," Janet Murguía, president and CEO of NCLR, said in a statement last month.

Mrs. Obama has made childhood obesity one of her signature causes in her role as first lady, and the issue fits in perfectly with the Latino Family Expo, an event taking place in conjunction with the NCLR conference in New Orleans. The Expo will include events and services encouraging a healthy lifestyle, like exercise and dance classes. The first lady's office notes that the percentage of children who are overweight or obese is disproportionately higher in the Hispanic community. While about a third of children overall are overweight, nearly 40 percent of Hispanic children are.

While Mrs. Obama typically avoids politically controversial topics, it wouldn't be unprecedented if she broached the subject of immigration reform. "There is nothing more critical than keeping families together and that is why Barack has been fighting so hard for comprehensive immigration reform," she told Univision last year, defending the record-high deportation rates under Mr. Obama's leadership.

Immigration reform was a major subject of discussion at the NCLR conference on Monday, when Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., headlined a panel on the issue. While the GOP-led House of Representatives isn't expected to take up the issue until September, Gutierrez said plenty of congressmen would hear from their constituents on the issue during August town halls.

"I am very confident about our chances for immigration reform, even if the road ahead looks difficult sometimes," he said. "We have unity among Democrats like I have never seen before, and there are dozens and dozens of Republicans who will vote with us to resolve this issue in a bipartisan manner."

Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, the NCLR's director of immigration and civic engagement, added that "Latino voters created a game-changing moment last November and have continued to be intensely engaged in this effort."

In interviews with Spanish language television stations last week, Mr. Obama also suggested that House Republicans will come on board after hearing from their constituents and various interest groups.

On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted that he backs immigration reform efforts. Even though he has in the past said he supports a comprehensive effort, Boehner said that the House prefers a "step-by-step approach."

"This is about allowing the House to work its will," he said. "As difficult as this issue is, me taking a hard position for or against some of these issues will make it harder for us to get a bill."

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