WASHINGTON — Launching a fresh effort toward a comprehensive immigration overhaul, President Barack Obama said Thursday that a bipartisan bill on the "sensitive and volatile political issue" will be difficult but must get under way this year.
"It's going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policy making over short-term politics," Obama said as he hosted a meeting of about 30 lawmakers whose views on immigration span the ideological spectrum. "That's what I'm committed to doing as president."
A sweeping immigration overhaul was a personal priority for Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, but the bill collapsed in the Senate in 2007, mostly under the weight of criticism from conservatives who saw it as an amnesty measure for illegal immigrants.
Much of the debate centered on how to deal with the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Some believe Republicans are more motivated this time to get on board, as immigration helped energize turnout toward Obama and other Democrats in the 2008 election.
Several lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — said after the meeting that this year is the last chance to try again, perhaps for decades.
"We've got one more chance to do this," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "If we fail this time around, no politician is going to take this up in a generation."
Obama announced that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will lead a group of lawmakers on the issue from the House and Senate "to start systematically working through" the stickiest, most emotional questions.
One of those is whether there is a need for a worker verification system, such as a fraud-resistant, biometric card to catch employers who hire undocumented workers.
Another is how — or whether — to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Still another tough issue is whether to expand guest worker programs. Business groups support it, but union leaders have joined to oppose it.