Obama puts spot­light on im­mi­gra­tion

Pres­i­dent asks Congress to fix bro­ken sys­tem as elec­tions near

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Baker

WASHINGTON — In his first ma­jor speech on the is­sue since tak­ing of­fice, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pressed Congress on Thurs­day to adopt a sweep­ing plan to fix a “fun­da­men­tally bro­ken” im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, tak­ing on a volatile is­sue that has in­flamed pas­sions in a weak econ­omy head­ing into the fall midterm cam­paign.

Obama tried to nav­i­gate be­tween what he called the two ex­tremes of the de­bate, de­fend­ing his ef­forts to strengthen border se­cu­rity while pro­mot­ing a path to cit­i­zen­ship for many of the 11 mil­lion peo­ple now in the United States il­le­gally.

The pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to el­e­vate the is­sue re­flected more of a po­lit­i­cal strat­egy than a leg­isla­tive one be­cause the White House has no plan to ac­tu­ally push a bill this year through a Congress al­ready con­sumed by other is- sues. In­stead, Obama’s fo­cus ap­peared in­tended to frame the de­bate for the fall elec­tions to ap­peal to His­panic vot­ers who may be cru­cial in sev­eral states. It is also aimed at other vot­ers turned off by anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric while blam­ing the GOP for op­pos­ing a com­pre­hen­sive over­haul.

“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,” he told an au­di­ence of law­mak­ers, ad­vo­cates, busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and la­bor lead-

Con­tin­ued from A1 ers at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity in Washington. “But the fact is, with­out bi­par­ti­san sup­port, as we had just a few years ago, we can­not solve this prob­lem.”

Repub­li­cans fired back, ar­gu­ing that the real prob­lem is an ad­min­is­tra­tion that doesn’t do enough to en­force laws al­ready on the books. More­over, they said, with 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans now un­em­ployed, this is the wrong time to loosen the rules on the es­ti­mated 8 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants cur­rently in the work force.

“We could cut un­em­ploy­ment in half sim­ply by re­claim­ing the jobs taken by il­le­gal work­ers,” said Rep. La­mar Smith, R-San An­to­nio, co-chair­man of the Re­claim Amer­i­can Jobs Cau­cus. “Pres­i­dent Obama is on the wrong side of the Amer­i­can peo­ple on im­mi­gra­tion. The pres­i­dent should sup­port poli­cies that help cit­i­zens and le­gal im­mi­grants find the jobs they need and de­serve, rather than fail to en­force im­mi­gra­tion laws.”

Gov. Rick Perry said that Tex­ans are fed up with rhetoric and want to see more per- son­nel, technology and fenc­ing along the Rio Grande. “Se­cure the border, Mr. Pres­i­dent, then we’ll have a con­ver­sa­tion about im­mi­gra­tion re­form,” Perry said in Austin.

But Obama dis­missed the fo­cus on a “border se­cu­rity first” ap­proach, say­ing the sys­tem is too big to be fixed “only with fences and border pa­trols.” He ad­vo­cated a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach that would call on the govern­ment, busi­nesses and il­le­gal im­mi­grants them­selves to live up to their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties within the law.

As a can­di­date, Obama had promised to tackle im­mi­gra­tion re­form in his first year in of­fice.

“Eigh­teen months later, he con­tin­ues to de­liver words, but no ac­tion,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was in­stru­men­tal in block­ing a bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion re­form bill in the Se­nate three years ago.

Thurs­day’s speech fol­lows back-to-back White House meet­ings on leg­isla­tive strat­egy be­tween Obama and Latino law­mak­ers, com­mu­nity ac­tivists, la­bor lead­ers and im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates.

“We are anx­ious; there is no doubt about that. Anx­ious to get started,” said Rep. Char­lie Gon­za­lez, D-San An­to­nio, who at­tended one of the White House meet­ings.

Rep. Solomon Or­tiz, D-Cor­pus Christi, and Rep. Luis Gu­tier­rez, D-Ill., have filed an im­mi­gra­tion re­form bill in the House that in­cludes a po­ten­tial path for cit­i­zen­ship for peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally.

But in a move to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble House Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would wait for the Se­nate to act first.

Obama made clear he had lit­tle in­ter­est in carv­ing out some el­e­ments of im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that might pass this year, in­stead in­sist­ing on a com­pre­hen­sive pack­age like one pro­posed by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C.

Un­der their plan, il­le­gal im­mi­grants would be re­quired to pay fines and back taxes, pass back­ground checks and prove that they could speak English be­fore go­ing to the back of the line of those seek­ing per­ma­nent le­gal res­i­dency. The plan would strengthen border se­cu­rity, cre­ate a process for tem- po­rary work­ers and re­quire So­cial Se­cu­rity cards with bio­met­ric data such as fin­ger­prints or reti­nal pat­terns to help en­sure that il­le­gal work­ers can’t get jobs.

But since of­fer­ing the plan, Gra­ham has balked at act­ing on im­mi­gra­tion this year, and no other GOP sen­a­tor has come for­ward to back it.

The pres­i­dent used Thurs­day’s speech to praise the con­tri­bu­tions of im­mi­grants to the U.S. and to re­ject the most dra­matic so­lu­tions to il­le­gal mi­gra­tion. Mass de­por­ta­tions would be “lo­gis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble and wildly ex­pen­sive,” he said, but blan­ket amnesty was “un­wise and un­fair” to those who played by the rules.

“In sum, the sys­tem is bro­ken and ev­ery­body knows it,” Obama said. “Un­for­tu­nately, re­form has been held hostage to po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, spe­cial­in­ter­est wran­gling and to the per­va­sive sen­ti­ment in Washington that tack­ling such a thorny and emo­tional is­sue is in­her­ently bad pol­i­tics.”

Charles Dhara­pak

Im­mi­gra­tion re­form has been held hostage to po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Thurs­day in Washington.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.