Obama called out Republicans for their position on immigration while standing just feet from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, saying that Republican demands for border security have been more than met by his administration but that “they’ll never be satisfied.”
On what was his first trip to the border since becoming president, Obama boasted of increasing border patrol agents, nearing completion of a border fence, and screening more cargo.
“But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I gotta say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time,” he said. “Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.”
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl issued a joint statement on Obama’s visit to El Paso, saying that when he was in the Senate, Obama “worked to undermine the reform that he now seems to be advocating during election season.”
“This is not surprising considering he made the same evolution in 2008,” the statement said. “It’s too bad he didn’t choose to follow through on those promises after his election.”
They also invited Obama to visit the Arizona border, the busiest illegal entry point in the nation, rather than El Paso, where illegal traffic has plummeted in the last two decades.
“It is no wonder the President chose El Paso and not Tucson as a backdrop to talk about immigration reform,” the senators said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, also a Republican, also said Obama should have gone to Arizona, saying in a statement: “Our state remains America’s gateway for illegal immigration, and we continue to bear the brunt of the federal government’s failure on this issue.”
“If the president felt confident in declaring the border secure, he should have come to tell the people of Arizona face-to-face,” she said.
Brewer said she was glad the White House is focusing on immigration “after two years of waiting.”
“But I remain skeptical,” she said. “It would be a shame if this effort is more about locking down votes in 2012 than securing our nation’s border today.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle said Obama’s speech was “driven by politics and politics alone.”
“Instead of real solutions and reforms, the president offered finger pointing and spin,” he said. “The U.S. border with Mexico is far from secure. No campaign speech can change that fact.”
Jennifer Allen, executive director of the immigrant rights group Border Action Network, said “fantastic speeches and meetings with leaders are important, but when deportation rates and abuse on the border are at an all-time high, we need to see the president take action.”
“We need a border that is safe, accountable and has strong oversight,” she said, in part referring to immigrant deaths during their border crossings. “These cannot be traded away in exchange for immigration reform.”
Democratic politicians in Arizona praised Obama’s speech and echoed his sentiments.
“It’s time to produce a policy that’s based on what’s really happening in this country, not in the imaginations of a misguided handful of fear-mongers,” U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said in a statement. “That’s what the president said to the country today, and he was right.”