Obama tells stu­dents that not all who want to re­form im­mi­gra­tion are racists

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama told his sup­port­ers Mon­day that they shouldn’t im­me­di­ately as­sume that some­one who wants stricter en­force­ment of im­mi­gra­tion laws is “au­to­mat­i­cally racist,” as he called for more un­der­stand­ing and en­gage­ment in Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal life.

Re­turn­ing to the pub­lic stage for the first time since leav­ing of­fice, Mr. Obama said his chief post-pres­i­dency goal will be to try to spark a resur­gence of in­ter­est in politics and to push for an army of com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers and lead­ers among young peo­ple.

The for­mer pres­i­dent of­fered some post-of­fice in­tro­spec­tion, say­ing his first po­lit­i­cal fail­ure, in a bid for a U.S. House seat in the 1990s, was be­cause he sought of­fice for the wrong rea­son —“be­cause it’s the next thing.” He said he needed to fig­ure out not what he wanted to be, but what he wanted to do, be­fore he be­came po­lit­i­cally successful.

Speak­ing to stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Chicago, where he used to teach con­sti­tu­tional law, he also said he’s lucky his younger life wasn’t sat­u­rated by to­day’s so­cial me­dia, say­ing that his po­lit­i­cal rise might have been de­railed if photos of his drug use were online for all to see.

“If you had pic­tures of ev­ery­thing I’d done when I was in high school, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been pres­i­dent of the United States,” he ac­knowl­edged.

Mr. Obama was of­fer­ing ad­vice to a di­verse group of stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates who are in­volved in com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, and whom the for­mer pres­i­dent held up as mod­els for other young adults to fol­low as they try to build bridges and en­gage their com­mu­ni­ties.

Asked by one young man about ef­forts to talk to illegal im­mi­grants, Mr. Obama said both sides of the de­bate need to do more to un­der­stand each other.

“It’s im­por­tant for those who sup­port, as I do, im­mi­gra­tion re­form and path­ways to cit­i­zen­ship for folks who are here, not to as­sume that ev­ery­body who has trou­ble with the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is au­to­mat­i­cally racist. That’s an ex­am­ple of us be­ing able to lis­ten,” he said.

But he said those who want to see cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion laws en­forced need to see the flow of peo­ple com­ing to the U.S. with­out per­mis­sion as “fam­i­lies just look­ing for a bet­ter life for their chil­dren.”

“It’s not like ev­ery­body at El­lis Is­land had all their pa­pers straight. The truth is the his­tory of our im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem has al­ways been a lit­tle bit hap­haz­ard, a lit­tle bit loose,” he said.

The for­mer pres­i­dent lamented a drop in po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment among young peo­ple, and said that’ll be a ma­jor fo­cus as he writes a book on his po­lit­i­cal life and plots his next steps post-pres­i­dency.

“I’m spend­ing a lot of time think­ing about what is the most im­por­tant thing I can do for my next job, and what I’m con­vinced of is that although there are all kinds of is­sues that I care about and all kinds of is­sues that I in­tend to work on, the sin­gle most im­por­tant thing I can do is to help in any way I can to pre­pare the next gen­er­a­tion of lead­er­ship,” he said at the Univer­sity of Chicago.

Obama sup­port­ers took to Twit­ter to praise the for­mer pres­i­dent and com­pare him fa­vor­ably to Pres­i­dent Trump.

“Hear­ing Obama speak for the 1st time since Jan was a jolt,” tweeted film­maker Michael Moore. “His em­pa­thy & good hu­mor with the young ppl was in se­vere con­trast to the present.”

MSNBC and CNN took Mr. Obama’s event live for much of the noon hour, while Fox News stuck with its reg­u­lar pro­gram.

The for­mer pres­i­dent has been rel­a­tively silent since leav­ing of­fice in Jan­uary, though he did take a vic­tory lap on the sev­enth an­niver­sary of the pas­sage of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

While Mr. Obama was a divi­sive fig­ure dur­ing his time in the White House, his suc­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Trump, has been even more frac­tious, bat­tling his own party as well as Democrats to try to notch ma­jor ac­com­plish­ments.

Mr. Obama didn’t delve di­rectly into com­par­isons with Mr. Trump, but did la­ment a drop-off in vot­ing rates among young adults, and re­counted his own po­lit­i­cal awakening.

“I was 25 years old, and I had got­ten out of col­lege filled with ide­al­ism and ab­so­lutely cer­tain that some­how I was go­ing to change the world, but I had no idea how or where or what I was go­ing to be do­ing,” he said.

“It’s im­por­tant for those who sup­port, as I do, im­mi­gra­tion re­form and path­ways to cit­i­zen­ship for folks who are here, not to as­sume that ev­ery­body who has trou­ble with the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is au­to­mat­i­cally racist. That’s an ex­am­ple of us be­ing able to lis­ten.”

— Barack Obama

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama spoke to stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Chicago, where he used to teach law, about the im­por­tance of en­gag­ing in pub­lic life. Mr. Obama also im­parted that those who wish to change U.S. im­mi­gra­tion policy are not au­to­mat­i­cally mo­ti­vated by racial bias.

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