Immigration Reform Taking Political Center Stage

Thursday, for the first time since he was elected, President Obama took up what will undoubtedly be one of his toughest political fights: immigration reform. Mr. Obama took aim at Arizona's controversial new law against illegal immigration.

Even in an election year battered by war and drenched in oil, it's the relentless flow of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border illegally that has turned out to be the politically charged third rail that politicians touch at their peril, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

"The system is broken and everybody knows it," said Mr. Obama.

Thursday Mr. Obama embraced the issue and pushed comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for illegal residents toward the top of his "to do" list.

And like the thousands who've hit the streets recently, he criticized Arizona's new immigration law - which requires police to check for citizenship - as divisive and unenforceable.

Eighteen localities around the country are refusing to do business with Arizona because of the law while 22 states are considering similar legislation.

"These laws also have the potential to violate the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents," said Mr. Obama.

Reaction was swift. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has fired blasts at Mr. Obama.

"Do your job and secure our borders," said Brewer on a recent TV appearance.

And at illegal residents and their supporters.

"They're not coming here to work," said Brewer. "They're coming here and they're bringing drugs."

The Arizona law takes effect the end of July. On Thursday a training video went out to help police enforce it.

"Racial profiling is police misconduct," said the video.

"There is deep-seated anger in the Latino community about what's going on in Arizona," said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican-American Leagal Defense and Education Fund.

Latinos make up 12 percent of the Arizona electorate and are central to Obama's political coalition. Anger at the GOP won't necessarily translate to votes for Democrats.

"At this point I think that both parties have real reason to be concerned," said Saenz.

Concern because getting bipartisan agreement on immigration seems unlikely. This political third rail has the power to burn both Republicans and Democrats.