President Obama today sought to tap into national frustration over the country's "fundamentally broken" immigration system, calling on Republicans to join him in a renewed push for comprehensive immigration reform, which has largely foundered on the legislative agenda.
Speaking at American University in Washington just one month before Arizona's new immigration law is set to take effect, Obama evoked the country's roots as a nation of immigrants, calling on lawmakers to establish a "clear national standard" for immigration policy, and prevent a patchwork of state immigration laws.
"The system is broken and everybody knows it," Obama said. "Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special interest wrangling, to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics."
"Our task now is to make our national laws actually work, to shape the system that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That means being honest about the problem and getting past the false debates that divide the country rather than bring it together," he said.
Obama's remarks come on the heels of separate meetings earlier this week with immigration and labor advocates and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House, during which Obama sought to offer reassurances that the administration is committed to comprehensive reform.
"I'm ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward, and I believe the majority of American people are ready to move forward," Obama said. "But the fact is that it cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality."
So far, no Republican Senators have publicly backed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, and no Republicans have co-sponsored Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez's pending legislation in the House.
Obama reiterated his support for the reform framework reached by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., earlier this year that calls for a "tough but fair path forward" for undocumented immigrants, and mirrors a plan laid out by Gutierrez that now has more than 100 co-sponsors in the House.
The proposals would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs, are in school or serve in the U.S. military to "earn legalization" by registering with the government, passing background checks, learning English and paying taxes and fees
"Our nation has the right to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship," Obama said of the nation's 10.8 million undocumented immigrants. "And no matter how decent they are or their reasons for being here, they broke these laws and should be held accountable."
But, Obama acknowledged, the country needs to develop a reasonable solution to the problem.
"Americans are skeptical of amnesty but they're also skeptical of rounding up and deporting all these people," he said. Deporting all of them "would tear at the fabric of this nation because immigrants who are here illegally are already woven into that fabric."
Some Republicans responded sharply to the president's address, accusing Obama of "pandering" to the Hispanic community and being disingenuous about the prospect of passing reform this year.