White House senior adviser David Axelrod today said lawmakers should start work on a comprehensive immigration bill this year, but it will need bipartisan support to pass Congress.
Whether a bill can pass this year is "a function of whether that coalition comes together. Certainly, the process should be in motion this year," Axelrod told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos, but "we can't get it done alone and this is a problem we ought to attack together."
President Obama told reporters this week that there "may not be an appetite" in Congress to deal with immigration legislation this year, especially with other big bills such as energy and financial regulation on the table.
Arizona's passage of a controversial anti-immigration law has stirred national debate. Some people are calling for an economic boycott of the state, which could even cost the state Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, potentially depriving an already battered economy of millions of dollars.
Axelrod said the immigration policy is "misguided" and could "give rise to some terrible abuses," but that the problem is much larger. The national uproar, he said, is a "manifestation of frustration about a lack of action."
Talk show host Lou Dobbs however defended the law, saying on "GMA" that the reaction has been "hyperbolic" and that idea that the law prescribes racial profiling is a "misconception."
"I hope people won't be frightened by something that they haven't read. I hope they won't be frightened by the fact that we're trying to enforce our laws in this country," Dobbs said. "I hope we won't be frightened by a community of seven million people, which is the population of Arizona, trying to come to terms with crime that is rampaging at the same level as crime in the largest city in the country, which is New York City."
Dobbs argued that some are distorting the Arizona law, which is no different than current federal law that already requires that immigrants carry identification papers.
"I think it's time for people to do a lot better, particularly our national and political leaders," he said.
The Department of Justice is reviewing the Arizona law and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has also blasted it. The state of Arizona will need DHS's cooperation to enforce its law.
"There are some very disquieting aspects of this" policy, Axelrod said. Obama, he said, wants to deal with the symptoms of this, which is the "absence of a coherent national policy."
On Thursday, Democrats officially unveiled a comprehensive immigration proposal, which includes beefed-up border security, a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and a national ID card. A bipartisan framework has been proposed in the Senate but action has yet to be taken.
"The president thinks it's a promising approach," Axelrod said. "Obviously, this will require bipartisan support. This is not something that you can move on a partisan basis through Congress, and the president's been working for months to encourage that kind of bipartisan coalition."