President Obama on Thursday recommitted his administration and, indirectly, congressional Democrats to comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living in the U.S.
The president said immigration reform cannot wait, and he urged congressional Republicans to join with Democrats and the American people, who he said have already made immigration a top priority.
“I’m ready to move forward,” he said during his speech at American University. “But the fact is without bipartisan support we cannot solve this problem. We cannot pass comprehensive reform without Republican votes. That is a political and mathematical reality.”
He started the speech by explaining the country needs “one, clear national standard,” and he outlined the problems that can arise from “a patchwork” of immigration laws in different states across the country, a reference to Arizona’s law that requires local and state police to arrest illegal immigrants and to calls in at least a dozen other states for similar laws.
Obama said it’s time to be honest about the problems and get past the “false debates.” He said both sides of the immigration fight have resorted to distorting the facts and clamoring for the kinds of laws that would be untenable on practical and moral levels.
“This issue lends itself to demagoguing,” Obama said.
He said those seeking amnesty for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. would lead to a surge in illegal immigration and would be unfair to those waiting for legal documentation to come into the U.S. Plus, he said, those who willingly broke the law should be held accountable.
But Obama also said rounding up all of the illegal immigrants and their children would be devastating because so many of them are “woven into the American fabric” by holding jobs, owning homes and contributing to their communities in other ways.
He said young children who crossed the border illegally with their parents should be allowed to pursue the American Dream, and he reiterated his longheld support for the Dream Act.
The president also said a seal-the-border-first approach would delay much-needed changes to the immigration system as a whole. Republican representatives and senators, however, have said they won’t vote for any immigration measures until the border has been secured.
“I do not agree with President Obama’s assertion that we must pass comprehensive immigration reform in order to secure the border. I do, however, believe it is necessary that we secure the border before we try to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl said in response to the president’s speech.
In addition, Obama said Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano has been directed to improve federal immigration enforcement policies without waiting for a new law. He said that means more troops on the border and more support staff to stop violent criminals and drug cartels from entering the U.S.
He said federal agents are seizing more contraband than ever before and that crime is down along the border, despite reports to the contrary.
“The border is more secure today than it has been at any time during the past 20 years,” he said.
Kyl disputed that assertion as well.
“The President and his administration claim that much has been done over the past two years to secure the border,” Kyl said. “Yet, a half a million people still illegally enter our country today, most through Arizona, and his administration has yet to lay out a strategy on how it intends to bring it under control.”