ABC News' Karen Travers reports from El Paso, Texas: President Obama came to the US-Mexico border today to see firsthand the stepped up security measures — and send a message back to Washington on immigration reform.
“Everyone recognizes the system is broken,” Mr. Obama said “The question is, will we summon the political will to do something about it?”
Easier said than done. Congressional Republicans remain firmly opposed to any immigration reform legislation that has a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Just today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell drew a clear line in the sand.
“The president will have to present a plan that takes amnesty off the table and focuses instead on making a real commitment to border and internal security,” McConnell said.
Speaking just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, President Obama said, that’s already been done.
“We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” he said.
Attempting to answer his critics on Capitol Hill, the president highlighted the efforts his administration has taken to enhance border security, including increased fencing, tripling the number of intelligence analysts working the border, doubling the number of border patrol agents (to more than 20,000) since 2004 and maintaining aerial patrols from Texas to California.
The White House says these steps have discouraged illegal crossings – the number of arrests along the border has dropped by half since 2006.
But, Mr. Obama said, his opponents may never be satisfied.
“They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform,” he said. “Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.”
The president framed immigration reform not just as a security issue, but as an “economic imperative.”
“One way to strengthen the middle class is to reform our immigration system, so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor.
The president sounded a familiar refrain: immigration reform can make America more competitive in the global economy.
“Look at Intel and Google and Yahoo and eBay – these are great American companies that have created countless jobs and helped us lead the world in high-tech industries. Every one was founded by an immigrant,” the president said. “We don’t want the next Intel or Google to be created in China or India.”
Mr. Obama only obliquely referenced the recent violence in Mexico fueled by the drug wars. “We’ve forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries,” he said.
He did emphasize that the security in cities and towns on the U.S. side of the border has improved.
“Despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in southwest border counties has dropped by a third,” Obama said. “El Paso and other cities and towns along the border are consistently rated among the safest in the nation.”
“Of course, we shouldn’t accept any violence or crime, and we have more work to do. But this progress is important,” he said.