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Obama holds White House meeting on immigration reform

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Obama calls for renewed pressure on Congress to act
  • Dozens of government, business and law enforcement leaders attend
  • Participants say Obama urged them to help build consensus on reforms
  • Republican opposition means no chance for approval this Congress

Washington (CNN) -- A broad group of government officials, business leaders, law enforcement officials and others met Tuesday with President Barack Obama to discuss how to build support for immigration reform in the face of congressional opposition.

Obama told the gathering that he remains committed to seeking a comprehensive approach "that both strengthens security at our borders while restoring accountability to the broken immigration system," according to a White House statement.

However, the president also acknowledged that any reform effort requires congressional approval, and he urged the gathering to help "bring the debate to communities around the country and involve many sectors of American society in insisting that Congress act" on the issue.

Last year, when Obama's Democratic Party controlled the House and Senate, Congress failed to pass an immigration bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who entered America as children. The so-called DREAM Act died in the Senate in December due to a Republican filibuster.

With Republicans now controlling the House and holding a stronger minority in the Senate, the chances for any comprehensive immigration reform are considered non-existent.

Despite that political reality, Obama urged the dozens who came to the White House to work together on building support in their states, cities and communities, participants said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, told reporters that Obama spoke to the group and also stayed to the end to listen to the input from participants.

"I think he was very candid," Sharpton said when asked about Obama's assessment for progress on the issue. "I think he hopes what will evolve is a collective consensus movement toward immigration reform."

The DREAM Act -- formally known as as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- fell five votes short of the 60 needed to be considered for final Senate passage.

On Tuesday, Obama "reiterated his deep disappointment that congressional action on immigration reform has stalled and that the DREAM Act failed to pass in the U.S. Senate after passing with a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House in December," the White House statement said.

The DREAM Act would offer legal standing to immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years.

Other requirements include graduating from high school or obtaining a General Education Development diploma and demonstrating "good moral character."

Even then, only a six-year conditional status would be awarded. Before moving to the next phase, the students would need to meet additional requirements -- attending college or serving in the military for at least two years, and passing criminal background checks.

Proponents, such as Obama and Democratic leaders, say the bill would give legal standing to young people brought to the United States who have bettered themselves and served their new country.

Republican opponents called the measure an amnesty that would signal to the world that the United States was not serious about enforcing its laws or its borders.