Obama Seeks Backing of CEOs on Immigration Reform

Lloyd Blankfein
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Lloyd Blankfein

President Barack Obama turned to corporate leaders Tuesday as he tried to rally support for comprehensive immigration reform.

He called a dozen top executives, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, to a White House meeting to promote what he calls a balanced approach to immigration legislation – one that strengthens border enforcement to reduce illegal immigration while identifying a path to legal status for the 11-million illegal immigrants already here.

Earlier in the day, Obama met with leaders of labor and liberal organizations, including the NAACP and the Service Employees International Union. (Read More: Obama: 'Now Is the Time' to Fix Immigration Laws)

The president and his aides are seeking to capitalize on auspicious political timing to make progress on a priority he failed to accomplish during his first term. Congressional Republicans, who in recent years have rejected approaches including a path to legal status, are heeding the calls of the party's political strategists to be more accommodating in hopes of reversing the GOP's dwindling performance among the fast-growing Latino electorate. That trend was a major contributor in Mitt Romney's loss to Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

(Read More: Why Immigration Reform May Happen This Year)

A bipartisan group of senators, including potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida, has advanced a set of immigration plans along the lines favored by Obama. But it remains unclear whether those plans can move through the House and Senate once legislative details are crafted.

Obama's meetings Tuesday, as well as a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, are intended to keep the pressure on for action. While liberals fear the plan will place too much emphasis on border enforcement and place too many burdens on those already here, conservatives say legalizing those who have already broken the law will encourage more of the same.

Leaders of the major corporations represented at the White House meeting favor expanding the flow of highly skilled immigrants into the U.S. as a matter of economic competitiveness. (Read More: Senators Unveil 'First Step' Plan on Immigration Reform)

"While immigration reform will be a difficult topic to navigate, it is critical that we succeed if the U.S. economy is to remain competitive in the 21st century," said Rob Nichols, president of the Financial Services Forum, which represents Wall Street in Washington. " More than ever before, economic competitiveness is about human capital. We hope Congress and the administration are able to achieve bipartisan reform this year that not only finds pragmatic solutions to our domestic challenges, but also strengthens our nation's innovative and productive capacity."

In addition to Blankfein and Mayer, the other CEOs scheduled to attend were Greg Brown of Motorola Solutions, Steve Case of Revolution LLC, Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm, Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola, Klaus Kleinfeld of Alcoa, Monica Lozano of Impremedia, Greg Page of Cargill, Jeff Smisek of United Continental and Arne Sorenson of Marriott International.

—By CNBC's John Harwood; Follow him on Twitter: @JohnJHarwood