updated 8/17/2009 6:55:08 PM ET 2009-08-17T22:55:08

The White House is hosting an immigration discussion Thursday with advocates, religious groups, businesses and law enforcers as part of an effort to bring all parties to the heated debate into one room.

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will lead the discussion, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting is not public.

Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said Napolitano has been holding similar meetings across the country during the past few weeks. He said Napolitano thinks it is important to speak directly to the people who are affected by the department's policies.

Last week President Barack Obama said immigration reform is important, but other priorities such as his health care overhaul and financial regulation must come first.

Obama said he expects to see draft legislation for an overhaul in the immigration rules by the end of the year, but changing the system will have to wait until next year. The immigration system is undeniably broken, he said, and he expects there will be a fight over how to change it.

It has been a roller coaster ride for immigrant rights advocates pushing for change during the past few years. When a call to action came in 2006, more than a million people nationwide marched in solidarity to fight a bill considered anti-immigrant. Since then, two legislative attempts failed.

Napolitano said last week that her department's job is to enforce the immigration laws currently on the books. She said, "When the law changes, we will be prepared to enforce that law as well."

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