Obama on immigration: "I need a dance partner"

President Barack Obama waves as he prepares to walks off stage after delivering remarks at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) annual conference luncheon in Washington, Monday, July 25, 2011. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Obama on Monday lamented the bitterly partisan nature of contemporary Congress, stating that when it comes to working with Republicans on immigration issues, "I need a dance partner... and the floor is empty."

In a speech before the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation's largest Latino advocacy group, the president reiterated his commitment to overhauling the American immigration system - but noted that, however tempting the idea, he could not just bypass Congress to change laws.

"Right now dealing with Congress... Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting - not just on immigration reform," Mr. Obama said, laughing, as cries of "Yes you can!" came from the audience.

As the 2012 presidential campaign heats up, candidates on both sides of the aisle will almost certainly face pressure to outline their positions on immigration reform - particularly to the rapidly-growing Latino community and Americans concerned about border control.

Many immigration rights activists have argued that the president could, if he wanted to, bypass Congress by using his administrative powers to defer action in deporting promising young students.

The president, however, argued on Monday that "That's not how our system works."

"That's not how our democracy functions," he added. 

Mr. Obama has long voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform, but Congress' inability last year to pass the DREAM Act-- a bill that aimed to provide upstanding young undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship -- has led some to question Democrats' seriousness on the issue.

In recent months, however, he has made a renewed pushto highlight his commitment to immigration reform. In June, he spoke about the issue during a visit to Puerto Rico. And in April, the president met with a group of administration officialsand stakeholders to discuss the importance of reviving a constructive conversation about reforming the system.

In his Monday remarks, Mr. Obama again urged the Latino community to put the pressure on Republicans in its bid for reform -- and, in an overtly political statement, argued that Democrats were not to blame for the lack of action.

"Feel free to keep the heat on me, and keep the heat on Democrats - but here's the only thing you should know: the Democrats and your president are with you. Don't get confused about that," he said. "Remember who it is that we need to move in order to actually change the laws."

He contended he wouldn't be able to push through comprehensive immigration reform without the support of a broad coalition.

"Usually, as soon as I come out in favor of something, about half of Congress is immediately against it - even if it was originally their idea," Mr. Obama said. "You notice how that works?"

"I need you to keep building a movement for change outside of Washington," he added.

The president also pledged to push for the cause on his own.

"I will keep up this fight," he said. "Because Washington is way behind where the rest of the country knows we need to go."

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