The re-elected U.S. president spoke Tuesday about his vision for restructuring the nation’s immigration policy and called for a clear path to citizenship for illegal residents who pay their taxes, learn the nation’s language and abide by the law.
“I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long.” President Obama said.
“I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity. Now is the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.”
As The White House reports, Mr Obama said that the good news is that for the first time in many years, there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. But action must follow.
“We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time,” he explained. “As a consequence, to help move this process along, today I’m laying out my ideas for immigration reform.”
In a speech that sounded at times like a campaign rallying cry, Mr Obama suggested that lawmakers on Capitol Hill should move swiftly.
“The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now; now is the time,” he said.
During his immigration speech, the U.S. president mentioned the game of poker he is playing with Republican leaders, particularly in the House of Representatives.
According to Mr Obama, if House Republicans fail to fall in line over immigration reform, they would reap the electoral consequences.
“If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send forward a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it right away,” he said.
A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, (R-Ohio) responded to the president’s speech by saying “there are a lot of ideas about how best to fix our broken immigration system.”
“Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the president is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate,” Brendan Buck said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a key member of the bipartisan Senate group drawing up a proposal, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about working with the White House.
“While there are some differences in our approaches to this issue, we share the belief that any reform must recognize America as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” the Arizona Republican said. “We should all agree that border security and enforcement is particularly important in order to ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the 1986 immigration reform.”
During his address, Obama also highlighted an economic case for reform. He spoke of businesses such as Intel and Instagram, both started by immigrants.
He went further, adding that any reform package must make immigrating legally easier to navigate for high-skilled workers and graduates with advanced degrees in the United States.
As The Huffington Post writes, Mr Obama added that the existence of undocumented workers is bad for the economy as a whole.
“It’s not just bad for [undocumented workers], it’s bad for the entire economy, because all the businesses that are trying to do the right thing that are hiring people legally, paying a decent wage, following the rules, they’re the ones who suffer,” he said.
“They have got to compete against companies that are breaking the rules. And the wages and working conditions of American workers are threatened too.”