Obama Offers a Framework for Immigration Reform

Obama immigration speech
Obama immigration speech

In an attempt to get out in front of the growing controversy involving immigration laws, President Barack Obama on Thursday outlined some key principles that he believes can lead to comprehensive immigration reform legislation and tighter border security for America.

Speaking at the American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C., Obama announced his support for the "Dream Act" -- reform legislation that gives illegal immigrants a possible path to citizenship -- and he asked Republicans and Democrats to come together to create such a path that is "fair, reflective of our values and that works." The president also made it clear that government, immigrants and the business community all need to be accountable in solving the problems with U.S. immigration policy.

He stressed that government needs to work harder to secure the borders and make the citizenship process less complicated. Businesses need to stop exploiting illegal immigrants by paying them low, off-the-books wages. And immigrants need to be responsible enough to "get right with the law" by following the processes in place, paying taxes and learning English as they get in line to earn their U.S. citizenship.

No Specific Mandates

During his remarks Obama acknowledged the growing tensions around immigration in the U.S., but he vowed that in spite of the risk of losing votes in upcoming elections he would attack the problem head-on. "This administration will not just kick the can down the road," he said.

However, the president was also clear to say any attempt at creating comprehensive immigration legislation "will not pass without Republican support."

While Obama didn't lay down any specifics or mandates, he said he would like to see any new legislation make it easier for the best and brightest immigrants to come to the U.S. to start businesses, make it easier for farmers to hire the workers they need and make it possible to stop punishing young people for their parents' decision to enter the country illegally.

He said Americans shouldn't fear immigration because the younger, diverse workforce that comes with it has allowed the U.S. to adapt and thrive in the face of economic and technological change, and has given the country a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

A Patchwork of State Laws

White House aides indicated that the president decided to address the immigration issue because of growing violence in border states, including kidnappings and shootings by Mexican cartels and skirmishes between ranchers and illegal immigrants that have resulted in injuries and deaths. Immigration reform has been in the headlines this year, especially after Arizona passed a controversial new law that allows police greater leverage to stop people and ask for proof of citizenship. That has led a number of other states to pass their own laws dealing with problems related to illegal immigrants.

During his speech, Obama said having a patchwork of state laws on immigration was ill-conceived. He said he thought the Arizona law was largely unenforceable and "has the potential of violating the rights of legal residents. . .making them subject to being stopped just because of what they look like."

The president indicated he understood the frustration of many states that have decided to tackle immigration issues on their own, but he also said his administration has made progress in some areas.

A Matter of Demand and Supply

"There are more boots on the ground on the Southwest border now than at any time in our history," Obama declared, adding that statistics show that there has been a "significant reduction" in the number of people trying to cross the U.S. border because stepped-up enforcement has resulted in the government is seizing more illegal drugs, guns and cash than ever before.

The president said much more work remains to be done to relieve the frustrations connected with immigration. Ultimately, he said if the efforts to control the borders continue to improve and the demand for undocumented workers falls, the number of people trying to come into the U.S. illegally will decline as well.

Immigration experts don't expect to see legislation moving through Congress this year, given that top Republicans have so far expressed little willingness to help resolve an issue that could cost Democrats votes in the November elections.