Nov 25, 11:03 AM EST

Obama heads to Chicago to pitch immigration steps


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama, the onetime community organizer, is returning Tuesday to the city where he says he first forged his ties to the Latino community to pitch his new executive actions on immigration.

Obama is trying to seize the advantage in the heated dispute over the contentious issue while Congress is on a Thanksgiving recess and Republicans scramble to coalesce behind a unified opposition strategy.

The president was scheduled to speak to Chicago community leaders, part of an ongoing effort to defend and promote his decision to bypass Congress and direct sweeping executive actions that could spare millions of immigrants illegally in the United States from being deported.

Obama will speak at a center in the city's predominantly Polish-American far northwest side, underscoring how his immigration measures would affect more than Latino immigrants. Chicago has the largest population of Poles in the United States. About one-fourth of the 11 million immigrants who lived illegally in the U.S. in 2011 came from Europe, Asia and South America, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Obama was being introduced in Chicago by restaurateur Billy Lawless, who emigrated from Ireland in 1998 and employs more than 250 people at three city restaurants.

Under a series of measures Obama announced last week, nearly 5 million immigrants will be eligible to avoid deportation and sign up for work permits. The number who could benefit represents about 45 percent of the total number of immigrants who either entered the country illegally or have overstayed their visas.

Republicans have vowed to rein Obama in, but have not fallen behind any specific plan.

Obama has called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul that he has said would render his executive actions moot.

Chicago is Obama's hometown - he worked in the city as a community organizer in the 1980s - and its metropolitan area has the fifth largest Latino population in the country.

The White House says Obama will draw attention to the contributions of immigrants and their role in creating businesses and jobs and will cite economic estimates from the White House that the executive actions would boost the economy and expand the tax base.

The Chicago visit is his second trip out of Washington to draw attention to his actions since he announced them Thursday. Last Friday, the president spoke in Las Vegas, another city with a large Latino population.

Obama has a mixed history in Chicago over the question of immigration. He conceded in his 2006 book "The Audacity of Hope" that his experiences there led him to reflect on the meaning of citizenship and "my sometimes conflicted feelings about all the changes that are taking place."

In 2006, when he was a senator from Illinois, he denied a request from about 30 Mexican nationals living in Chicago for a special piece of legislation that would protect them from deportation. The decision infuriated immigration activists in the city.

But Obama has also backed an overhaul of immigration law, and while he initially angered advocacy groups by delaying his executive actions until after this month's midterm elections, last week's measures have generally been greeted with enthusiasm from immigration advocates and Latino groups.

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