ABC News’ Matthew Zavala Reports: While in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that immigration reform is needed more than raids like those that arrested more than 750 people in Southern California over the past week.
Villaraigosa said labor laws should be enforced, borders secured and a pathway to citizenship offered to illegal immigrants who have resided in this country, worked and paid taxes. He also called on the United States to create jobs in countries where conditions are so economically depressed that people are coming to the United States illegally.
Villaraigosa made his comments about immigration following a speech to the National Press Club in which he called for ending urban poverty by subsidizing college savings accounts, investing in preschool, and expanding career training for young people.
While Wednesday’s lunchtime event was supposed to be about poverty in America, the question and answer portion quickly turned to the topic of illegal immigration. In each answer, Villaraigosa, was careful not to use the word "illegal" but rather "undocumented." When asked how he justifies taxpayer money being spent on services and benefits for illegal immigrants, the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since 1872 retorted, "I came here to talk about poverty, work, and opportunity and as mayor, the City of Los Angeles has nothing to do with immigration reform. What you should know is that’s a federal responsibility."
When Villaraigosa was asked to comment on the "many" gang members who are illegal immigrants, he said, the word "many" is "an adjective that doesn’t bear itself out." In order to address gang problems which have spread from Los Angeles to other parts of the United States and other parts of the world, he said, "We need to have an international cooperation around gangs."
While discussing his ideas for fighting poverty, Villaraigosa refused to put a price tag on his proposals, but he promised to do so tomorrow when the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Poverty Work & Opportunity, which he chairs, unveils its full report.
The education accounts in the proposal are intended to encourage personal savings by matching individual contributions with up to $500 in federal funds each year. Under the proposal, the typical high school senior could have as much as $30,000 to invest in college or career training by his or her 18th birthday.
Villaraigosa maintained that while "the cost is in the billions. The dividends will be in the trillions."