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Obama Takes Sales Pitch For Immigration Action On The Road

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

First the announcement, now the sales pitch. President Obama is in Las Vegas selling his executive actions on immigration. Combined, the White House says those actions could shield some 4 million people who are in the country illegally from deportation. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the president and joins us now from Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. Tam, the president has spoken at this high school twice before. Presumably, he faced a receptive crowd. What was it like there?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: On the way in, the motorcade passed protesters holding signs that said no amnesty. They were chanting things like Barack Obama is the worst president ever. But inside the gymnasium, the crowd was far more supportive. He was introduced by the young woman he mentioned in his address last night, Astrid Silva. She's one of the so-called DREAMers who has been pushing for action. She was brought here illegally as a young child. And now as a result of the president's actions because she has a younger brother who's a U.S. citizen, her parents will be able to apply for temporary legal status.

But the president's actions don't actually cover everyone. And one of those people stood up. He was a young man wearing a blue shirt and shouted to the president saying that the actions didn't go far enough. And President Obama basically agreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That's right. Not everybody will qualify under this provision. That's the truth. And that's the truth. That's why we're still going to have to pass a bill.

SIEGEL: President Obama's speech last night, Tam, only ran about a quarter of an hour. The speech in Las Vegas today was much longer. So what's the case he's making there? What's his pitch?

KEITH: It's much the same pitch. If he could write a headline it might be deport felons not families. He's making a humanitarian argument. And in this gymnasium there are likely many people who would have been affected - will be affected by his actions. So he's making a humanitarian case in front of the very people that will be affected. He begged House - he said that he had begged House Speaker John Boehner to bring up a bill passed by the Senate last year, joking that he even offered to wash Boehner's car or walk his dog. And said that he still wants Congress to act. Beyond the heartstrings argument, he also talked about priorities. Congress has only allocated enough funding to deport about 400,000 people a year. And yet, there are 11 million living in the country illegally. So the president argued why not target the criminals and the new arrivals and allow the people who have roots and jobs and families here to be part of society?

SIEGEL: Now, as you mentioned, there were protests outside. And there have also been loud protests coming from congressional Republicans. What have they been saying today?

KEITH: Well, they're saying that this isn't getting the country any closer to a comprehensive immigration overhaul. They say it may be making it harder. House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference earlier today that with this action the president has, quote, "chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of bipartisan legislation." He also said the House will respond, but he didn't say exactly how the House would respond.

SIEGEL: So what comes next? How long will it take for these policies to take effect?

KEITH: Well, there are many parts of what the president announced. He did sign a couple of memorandums after the Air Force One landed. But the bulk of the action will take at least until spring for the Department of Homeland Security to start accepting applications from people who would like to have temporary legal status in the country.

SIEGEL: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, traveling with President Obama in Nevada. Tam, thanks for joining us.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.