Issues regarding how America should deal with its rising population of illegal aliens have been around for a long time. Current estimates have the number of people in this country illegally today at about 11- 12 million. Legislation passed recently in Arizona has heated up the illegal immigration issue. That legislation would allow authorities to stop anyone at any time to ask or proof of legal status.
So when Barack Obama took the podium at American University today in Washington, D.C., specifically to address immigration reform, expectations were high that he would directly address the issue of the existing controversial Arizona legislation as well as propose an alternate plan. The entire transcript is here.
He began by summarizing the accomplishments of his administration in a variety of areas, adding :
So, despite the forces of the status quo, despite the polarization and the frequent pettiness of our politics, we are confronting the great challenges of our times. And while this work isn’t easy, and the changes we seek won’t always happen overnight, what we’ve made clear is that this administration will not just kick the can down the road. Immigration reform is no exception.
He followed this with a lengthy portion about the history of this country and immigrants, a description of America as a land of immigrants, reminders that many of our forebears came here from other countries, and presented examples of "good immigrants."
He then came to a partial summary of the problem :
"... because they live in the shadows, they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses who pay them less than the minimum wage or violate worker safety rules -– thereby putting companies who follow those rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime, at an unfair [dis]advantage. Crimes go unreported as victims and witnesses fear coming forward. And this makes it harder for the police to catch violent criminals and keep neighborhoods safe. And billions in tax revenue are lost each year because many undocumented workers are paid under the table.
More fundamentally, the presence of so many illegal immigrants makes a mockery of all those who are going through the process of immigrating legally. Indeed, after years of patchwork fixes and ill-conceived revisions, the legal immigration system is as broken as the borders.
And then he added "In sum, the system is broken. And everybody knows it. Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special-interest wrangling -– and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics."
Obama indicated that these are some of the choices we have today:
1. Round up all the illegal immigrants and run them out -- not an option, or
2. 100% amnesty -- unfair to those who have worked hard to attain citizenship or who still waiting for years to qualify for a legal visa, or
3. Identify and hold accountable those who are here illegally by requiring them to pay taxes and fines, to learn English and to engage them in activities beneficial to the U.S. People who do not come forward will be deportation eligible. It is this approach that he favors.
He did indicate that the government has a responsibility to secure our borders, and that he has told Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to improve our enforcement policy without waiting for any new laws.
In responding to those alleging that the borders must be made secure before anything else happens, the president indicated that statistics show that the current administration has increased personnel at the borders to an all-time high and that crossing numbers are down. But he added, "Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work."
To that end he proposed pressuring business who knowingly hire illegal aliens, pointing out the damage that exploited workers create for the legal American worker and indicating his belief that with a drop in the chance for illegal employment, there will be a drop in illegal immigrants.
Obama also reiterated his support for The Dream Act, which seeks to not penalize children of illegal aliens and to provide them with their own conditional path to citizenship. This Act has yet to pass.
Finally, he pointed to the lack of current viable reform as a result of politics and demagoguery and once again called for real bipartisan support, even during an election year on a volatile issue such as immigration.
There was no indication of whether or not he planned to have the national government seek a way to assault the Arizona law, but he did indicate that it was dangerous and that he did not want every state to start developing its own immigration policy.
The president concluded with a rather chopped-up version of the poem from the Statue of Liberty written by Emma Lazarus, the daughter of and advocate for immigrants:(Full version here.)
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand,
A mighty woman with a torch…
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome…
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”…
“Give me your tired, and your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free…
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In a web broadcast after the speech, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz took questions on the White House site. She addressed the fact that Homeland Security should be and is addressing the issue of unwanted illegal aliens -- criminals, terrorists, gang members, drug dealers. She basically rearticulated sections of the Obama speech.
There remains no detailed description of proposed legislation, but the president has made clear that he does not favor 100 percent amnesty, nor does he advocate 100 percent deportation. While many may have looked to this speech for clear indications about the government's plans for Arizona or a more vibrant sense of the administration's specific long-term plans, those specifics were not to be had.
In the meantime, states are not waiting around. According to NPR, so far in 2010, 45 states have introduced more than 1,000 pieces of legislation related to immigrants.
What do you think of Obama's position on immigration?
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool
More from entertainment