For a moment, it seemed candidate Barack Obama was back on the stump– making the case for comprehensive immigration reform and pushing for the middle ground on one the country’s of the most politically divisive and emotional issues. Speaking at American University before an audience of largely evangelical, business, labor and community leaders – along with law enforcement, the President reiterated many of the same arguments he made before coming to the White House: that immigrants make the country economically, culturally and intellectually richer, but that at the same time those who broke laws to get here should not be rewarded with blanket amnesty.
The President spoke broadly about reform, noting the “fresh contention” around Arizona’s new immigration law, which goes into effect later this month.
“States like Arizona have decided to take matters into their own hands. And given the levels of frustration across the country, this is understandable. But it is also ill-conceived,” he said, “Laws like Arizona's put huge pressures on local law enforcement to enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable. It puts pressure on already hard-strapped state and local budgets. It makes it difficult for people here illegally to report crimes, driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult.”
The President laid out the ways his administration has worked to secure the United States’ porous borders, including increased National Guard presence at the southern border and more southbound cargo inspections. He argued that crime along the border is down, saying that, “The southern border is more secure today than any time in the past 20 years.”
But Mr. Obama said securing the borders alone is not enough. He called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform but at the same time, did not offer specifics on what such a bill should contain nor how soon he wants this done.
“I'm ready to move forward. The majority of Democrats are ready to move forward. And I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem,” he said, noting that the “the political and mathematical reality” is that such a measure would require Republican support.
“The only way to reduce the risk that this effort will again falter because of politics is if members of both parties are willing to take responsibility for solving this problem once and for all.”
The President said that many in office have deferred the issue because it is so inflammatory and divisive.
“Despite the courageous leadership in the past shown by many Democrats and some Republicans — including, by the way, my predecessor, President Bush — this has been the custom,” he said, “That is why a broken and dangerous system that offends our most basic American values is still in place.”
-Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller