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House Republican leaders holding up immigration reform: Obama

A woman holds a cluster of U.S. flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California Augu
A woman holds a cluster of U.S. flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California Augu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday called on the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which he said was being blocked by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives.

Obama said at a White House news conference there were Republicans in both the House and Senate who know immigration reform "is the right thing to do."

"I also know it's hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this," Obama said.

"Right now what's holding us back is House Republican leadership not willing to go ahead and let the process move forward."

Obama met Wednesday with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to discuss immigration and Cantor later issued a statement saying Obama did not know how to work with Congress and implying that the president attacked the people he needed to collaborate with.

At his news conference, Obama said the meeting was more genial than Cantor's statement indicated.

"What I said to him privately ... is something that I've said publicly, which is there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said. "It would strengthen our economy, it would help with our security and it would provide relief to families, many of whom have lived here for years and have children and family members who are U.S. citizens. The Congress should act."

House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, repeatedly has said he would not accept a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate last year, even though it enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Boehner favors a piecemeal approach to changing U.S. immigration laws.

Immigration reform groups are pressuring Obama to use executive powers to ease deportations on some illegal residents if Congress cannot pass a broad update of existing law. Obama has said the administration was reviewing its options.

(Reporting by Bill Trott; Editing by Eric Beech)

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