President Obama: I Can’t Push Immigration Reform Without Some Republican Help

By Matt Loffman

May 19, 2010 1:54pm

President Obama said today that "the Arizona law, I think, expresses some of the frustrations that the American people have had in not fixing a broken immigration system, and, frankly, the failures of the federal government to get this done. I'm sympathetic to those frustrations.  I share those frustrations.  Which is why from the time that I was a U.S. senator through the time that I ran for president until now I have consistently said that I'm supportive of a comprehensive immigration reform approach."

He said he supported a comprehensive approach that did three things:

• "Number one, that the federal government takes its responsibilities for securing our border seriously.  And as I just stated in my opening remarks, we have actually put more resources, more personnel on the borders, and illegal immigration is actually down on the borders, not up.  I know that's not the perception out there, but that's the fact.  But we haven't done enough…

• "The second thing we've got to do is we've got to make sure that businesses are following the rules and are not actively recruiting undocumented workers, so that they don't have to abide by overtime laws, they don't have to abide by minimum wage laws, they don't have to abide by worker safety laws and otherwise undercut basic worker protections that exist.  And they have to be held accountable and responsible.

• "The third thing we have to do is to make sure that those who have come to this country illegally are held accountable.  And that means they need to pay a fine, they need to pay back-taxes.  I believe they should learn English.  I believe that it is important for them to get to the back of the line and not in the front, but that we create a pathway so that they have an opportunity, if they are following the rules, following the law, to become legal residents and ultimately citizens of this country."

The problem, he said, is Republicans aren't willing to support a comprehensive bill.

"The political challenge is, is that I have confidence that I can get the majority of Democrats, both in the House and the Senate, to support a piece of legislation of the sort that I just described. But I don't have 60 votes in the Senate.  I've got to have some support from Republicans.
"When we made an effort of this sort a few years ago, it was under the leadership of John McCain and Ted Kennedy.  And because there was a bipartisan effort, we were actually able to generate a majority of votes in the Senate, and we just missed being able to get it done in the House. If we can re-create that atmosphere — I don't expect to get every Republican vote, but I need some help in order to get it done."

Note: what actually happened in 2007 is the Senate did not have even close to enough votes to proceed to debating the immigration reform bill. 

Also: though President Obama paints himself as a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, as a senator in 2007 he actually angered some in the bipartisan group pushing the bill by five times voting for amendments that threatened to unravel the bipartisan compromise, as we noted a couple years ago.

These included an amendment Obama offered that would have sunsetted the merit-based evaluation system for immigrants after five years; two amendments from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, to sunset both the temporary guest worker visa program and the Y-1 non-immigrant temporary worker visa program after five years; and two amendments from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, that would have removed the requirement that 'Y' non-immigrant visa holders leave the United States before they are able to renew their visa, and would have lowered the annual visa quota for guest workers from 400,000 to 200,000 per year.

Obama voted for all five; Kennedy – the Senate Democratic leader of the immigration reform compromise — voted against all five.

-Jake Tapper

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