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After taking executive actions, Obama sets off on a sales mission for his immigration measures

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and his allies, confronting a buildup of GOP criticism, are seeking to sell the president's executive actions on immigration as good politics and good policy.

The effort is crucial to Obama as he tries to dampen Republican cries to undo the administrative measures and, at the same time, strives to win the trust of immigrants and get them to participate. Obama is starting with a rally Friday at the Las Vegas high school where he launched his 2013 drive for an overhaul of the immigration system.

The White House is enlisting the aid of immigrant advocacy groups and hoping to keep Democrats united, with some exceptions, behind a single message.

Expected to join Obama on his trip to Nevada were home state senator and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Immigration advocacy groups scheduled news conferences Friday in multiple states to promote Obama's plans.

The executive actions, which Obama laid out in a prime-time television address Thursday, are designed to make nearly 5 million immigrants illegally in the United States eligible for protection from deportation and for work permits. It would mainly cover parents of U.S. citizens and of legal residents as long as the parents have been in the U.S. for five years or more. But Obama's actions also would change enforcement priorities by emphasizing the deportation of new illegal arrivals and criminals.

Obama's decision to bypass Congress with his directives infuriated Republicans, who have accused him of vastly exceeding his authority. Obama, already prepared with a counter-argument, noted that the GOP-controlled House had failed to act on a bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate last year.

"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill," Obama said in his national address.

PHOTO: FILE - Astrid Silva poses as she waits for her number to be called to renew her passport at the Mexican Consulate in Las Vegas in this Friday, June 22, 2012 file photo. The young woman who has led immigration reform efforts buried her face in her father's shoulder, standing side-by-side against a wall, as the president mentioned the time when Silva couldn't return to Mexico to be at her grandmother's funeral. The 26-year-old's tears didn't abate as she went from interview to interview in front of cameras and microphones in a crowded Las Vegas office to tell her story once more, seconds after Obama finished telling the country about his plan to offer protections to nearly 5 million immigrants, including deferring deportations for some.  (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, David Becker, File)
FILE - Astrid Silva poses as she waits for her number to be called to renew her passport at the Mexican Consulate in Las Vegas in this Friday, June 22, 2012 file photo. The young woman who has led immigration reform efforts buried her face in her father's shoulder, standing side-by-side against a wall, as the president mentioned the time when Silva couldn't return to Mexico to be at her grandmother's funeral. The 26-year-old's tears didn't abate as she went from interview to interview in front of cameras and microphones in a crowded Las Vegas office to tell her story once more, seconds after Obama finished telling the country about his plan to offer protections to nearly 5 million immigrants, including deferring deportations for some. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, David Becker, File)

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama, in sidestepping Congress, had damaged his ability to get things done.

"By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left," Boehner said in a statement following Obama's speech.

Many Americans still support paths to citizenship for immigrants illegally in the U.S., but they don't tend to support Obama acting on his own. Indeed, after Senate Democrats met with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Thursday, one of them, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he told McDonough now was the wrong time for Obama to act.

"I think he ought to wait till the new Congress comes in, give them a couple of months, drop the plan, say this is what we're going to do if they don't take action," Manchin said.

White House officials believe Obama must respond forcefully to Republican criticism that he has exceeded his authority. That negative idea appears to be embedded with the public. A Wall Street Journal NBC poll released this week showed that 48 percent of those surveyed opposed Obama taking executive action on immigration, while 38 supported the idea.

When asked about specific policy measures, without Obama's name attached, nearly 3 of 4 respondents in the poll said they favored a pathway to citizenship for immigrants illegally in the U.S. if they paid a fine and back taxes and passed a background check. Those are key elements of Obama's legislative proposal to overhaul immigration.

Obama also wants to make sure immigrants eligible for his program do enroll. Advocates fear that with only two years left in Obama's presidency and with Republican threats to undo the executive actions, eligible immigrants won't sign up.

Without enrollment by millions of immigrants seeking to obtain work permits, these advocates fear, Obama's executive order would become an easy target for a new president with a different immigration agenda.

Still contending with a spike of Central American migrants who crossed the border this summer, Obama is also eager to draw attention to the southern border in hopes that his actions don't create an incentive for more attempted crossings.

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Video:
PHOTO: President Barack Obama invited a showdown with newly empowered Republicans in Congress, ordering far-reaching changes to the U.S. immigration system. Immigration reform supporters rallied outside the White House as the President spoke. (Nov. 21)
President Barack Obama invited a showdown with newly empowered Republicans in Congress, ordering far-reaching changes to the U.S. immigration system. Immigration reform supporters rallied outside the White House as the President spoke. (Nov. 21) PHOTO: President Barack Obama is telling the American people that the time to change the nation's immigration system is now, and he's taking action to make that happen. (Nov. 20)
President Barack Obama is telling the American people that the time to change the nation's immigration system is now, and he's taking action to make that happen. (Nov. 20) PHOTO: President Barack Obama spurned furious Republicans by unveiling expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts. (Nov. 20)
President Barack Obama spurned furious Republicans by unveiling expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts. (Nov. 20)

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