President Obama today called for a “practical, common sense” immigration system that will help the U.S. economy and maintain America’s immigrant tradition — and he put the pressure on Republicans to get it through Congress.
“Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes,” Obama said in his first major immigration speech as president . “That is the political and mathematical reality.”
Obama said his administration has already taken record-setting actions to strengthen the border, and he urged Congress to approve “a pathway to legal status” for the 11 million or so illegal immigrants who are already in the United States.
Immigration has become “a source of fresh contention” in recent days because of the new Arizona law that gives police greater authority to question people’s citizenship, Obama said. His administration is expected to file a lawsuit against Arizona, but the president did not discuss potential legal action.
Speaking to lawmakers, academics, and community leaders gathered at American University, Obama touted his plan by stressing the immeasurable contributions that immigrants have made to the United States, and the frequent discrimination they faced throughout history. “Immigrants have always helped to build and defend this country,” Obama said.
Obama said political posturing on an emotional issue has delayed congressional action in years and month past. “Into this breach,” he said, “states like Arizona have decided to take matters into their own hands.”
“These laws also have the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents,” Obama said, “making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound.”
At points in his speech, Obama criticized both sides of the immigration debate.
Some rights groups all but encourage illegal immigration, Obama said, though at least 11 million people are in fact breaking the law by not going through the citizenship process, and they should be held accountable.
As for critics of “amnesty,” Obama said it’s simply impossible to deport 11 million people. Doing so would disrupt communities and break up families, he added, as many undocumented immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens because they were born here.
The president said he has already taken major steps to better protect the border, proclaiming — twice — that “we have more boots on the ground near the southwest border than at any time in our history.”
As for his pathway to citizenship plan, President Obama said it will help create “a younger workforce and a faster growing economy than many of our competitors,” Obama said. “And in an increasingly interconnected world, the diversity of our country is a powerful advantage in global competition.”