WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday will try to rally public support behind his proposals for a far-reaching immigration overhaul that would give millions of illegal immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship, as well as make improvements to the legal immigration system and border security.
The president will launch his push in a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, a day after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled their own plan for addressing an issue that has languished in Washington for years. Obama carried Nevada, a political battleground, in large part because of support from Hispanics in the state.
Administration officials said Obama would largely endorse the senators' efforts, though immigration advocates said they expected the president's own proposals to be more progressive than those put forth by the Senate group, including a faster pathway to citizenship.
The simultaneous immigration campaigns were spurred by the November presidential election, in which Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally, giving him a key advantage over Republican rival Mitt Romney. The results caused Republican lawmakers who had previously opposed immigration reform to reconsider in order to rebuild the party's reputation among Hispanics, an increasingly powerful political force.
Still, passage of emotionally charged immigration legislation by the Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, and a taller hurdle could come later in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who have shown little interest in immigration overhaul. The Republican base opposes anything that might resemble an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Many Republican lawmakers have to worry more about primary challenges from the right than about general election races against Democrats.
But Arizona Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008, said members of his party should realize that supporting immigration legislation could boost Republican prospects in future elections.
"The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a pre-eminent issue with those citizens," said McCain.
McCain collaborated with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn't get enough Republican support.
With a re-elected Obama pledging his commitment, the bipartisan group of senators argued that the chances for approval of immigration legislation are much better this year.
"Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. "But we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done. The politics on this issue have been turned upside down," Schumer said, arguing that polls show more support than ever for immigration changes and political risk in opposing it.
Immigration is one of the few issues that may bring Democrats and Republicans together in highly divided times. The Obama administration faces major Republican resistance to his other major goals, from gun control to protecting America's social safety net as Washington debates how to trim the U.S. deficit.
Most of the recommendations Obama will make Tuesday are not new. He outlined an immigration blueprint in May 2011 but exerted little political capital to get it passed by Congress, to the disappointment of many Hispanics.
Administration officials said the president would bolster his 2011 immigration blueprint with some fresh details. His original plan centered on four key areas: a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., improved border security, an overhaul of the legal immigration system, and making it easier for businesses to verify the legal status of workers.
Administration officials said they were encouraged to see the Senate backing the same broad principles. In part because of the fast action on Capitol Hill, Obama does not currently plan to send lawmakers formal immigration legislation.
However, officials said the White House does have legislation drafted and could fall back on it should the Senate process stall. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal strategy.
Obama's previous proposals for creating a pathway to citizenship required those already in the U.S. illegally to register with the government and submit to security checks; pay registration fees, a series of fines and back taxes; and learn English. After eight years, individuals would be allowed to become legal permanent residents and could eventually become citizens five years later.
The Senate group's pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. would be contingent upon securing the border and improving tracking of people in the U.S. on visas. Linking citizenship to border security could become a sticking point between the White House and lawmakers.
The Senate framework would also require those here illegally to pass background checks and pay fines and taxes in order to qualify for a "probationary legal status" that would allow them to live and work here -- but not qualify for federal benefits -- before being able to apply for permanent residency, a critical step toward citizenship. Once they are allowed to apply they would do so behind everyone else already waiting for a green card within the current immigration system.