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Obama: The time for immigration reform is now

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Leila Navidi

President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Tuesday, January 29, 2013.

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 | 1:28 p.m.

Obama Kicks Off Immigration Reform

President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. Launch slideshow »

President Barack Obama put the U.S. Congress on notice Tuesday.

This is the year for lawmakers to pass an immigration reform package, and if the old partisan quagmire over the issue returns, he will force their hand.

Just before noon, the president addressed a crowd of several hundred at Del Sol High School, stating repeatedly that “now is the time” for reform.

“I’m here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” he told the crowd of community leaders, immigrant advocates, union members, attorneys, academics and politicians, including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

The president’s speech comes a day after the “gang of eight,” a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, outlined their general guidelines for starting the debate on how to best fix the immigration system.

“The foundation for bipartisan action is already in place,” he said. “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”

Julio Rodriguez, an attendee whose son goes to Del Sol High School, said he moved his family from Arizona three years ago because of the environment created after the border state passed a controversial immigration enforcement law.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and I hope to hear he is committed to getting immigration reform done,” Rodriguez, 38, said prior to the speech. “One of the most important steps is a pathway to citizenship.”

Eliseo Medina, secretary treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said it’s important for Obama to show leadership on the issue to get a bill through both houses of Congress.

“This is the first time we are having the debate on the merits of the law, instead of demonizing immigrants,” Medina said. “I’m glad the Republicans have stepped up, because it will take a bipartisan effort.”

Obama said the nation must gird itself for a tough debate, especially as the bill gets closer to passage.

“It’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” he said. “And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of ‘us’ used to be ‘them.’ We forget that. It’s really important for us to remember our history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else. Somebody brought you.”

The president broke his proposal into four components. First, he said, the government must continue to strengthen border security, including improving immigration courts, working more closely with local law enforcement and cracking down on transnational crime and distributors of false documents.

Second, Obama said, the government must do a better job of policing employers who hire immigrants who are ineligible for work.

“We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules,” he said. “We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable — businesses for who they hire and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense.”

The president’s plan suggests phasing in mandatory electronic employment verification. Caesar’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman, who attended the speech, said his company already uses the system, and Obama’s proposal was a “step in the right direction.”

“I’m enormously supportive of this proposal,” Loveman said. “I think all of the steps are the right ones, and it does a good job of being fair to everyone.”

While the president insisted that for “comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear that there is a pathway to citizenship,” he added that citizenship must be “earned.”

Immigrants residing in the country illegally must pass a background check, pay taxes and a penalty, wait in the same line as other immigrants and learn English, Obama said.

The Hispanic advocacy group Presente.org immediately released a statement applauding the president for rallying behind reform but criticized his continued focus on enforcement.

“President Obama sounded good, but misspoke when he said most people he is deporting were ‘criminals.’ Nobody is asking President Obama to support policies that are ‘badly broken,’” Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org said in a statement.

“No polls of Latinos say we want ‘smarter enforcement’ that wastes more taxpayer dollars to pad the incredibly bloated budget of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency,” he said.

The president said that the so-called “DREAMers,” young immigrants who were brought to the country by their parents or others and do not have a legal residency status, should be able to achieve citizenship faster if they pursue higher education or serve in the military.

Finally, Obama said, the legal immigration process must be reformed and streamlined. The president advocated for visas for foreign entrepreneurs and giving talented foreign students who study in the United States more opportunities to remain in the country when they finish their degrees.

“Intel started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and stayed here,” Obama said. “Instagram started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and stayed here.”

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  1. The best way to stop illegal immigration, in very short order, is to remove the incentives for it in the first place.

    Take away all forms of social assistance, including education and medicine, and rigorously enforce e-Verify requirements. And most important, get rid of birthright citizenship and require at least one parent to be a US citizen. (And yes, I understand full well that the concept of birthright citizenship was absolutely needed after the Civil War to ensure former slaves were citizens.)

    Take those steps, and I think that many more Americans would have a better opinion of social services. The need for strong border walls would evaporate.

  2. The Deceiver in Chief does not think we know the difference between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigrants. He keeps talking about the two as if they are the same.

    I cannot listen to another thing he says after he does that. Of course, the adoring media doesn't care to point out when Obama lumps all immigrants, legal and illegal, into the same pot.

    You are complicit.

  3. SafaiMuch - You keep telling yourself that your immmigrant ancestors were a contribution - but guess what buddy?

    The ones who were here before considered them a pestilence. Irish, German, Polish, Greek, Russian, and even more so Italians.

    They were bottom feeders - parasites on society. But you don't see it that way do you? No, of course not.

    The difference? Most of those groups had ONE big influx of immigration to the U.S. Latinos? Latinos have ALWAYS been a part of this continent, since it was called the Americas to the time it was called United States.

    This issue of assimilation is nonsense. Latinos assimilate just like any other group. The difference is in the details above. You have an influx of Latinos who come and go because they are right next door - and throughout time many never went back! And you, until today, continue to have people coming and going.

    The other groups? It was mostly a big migration - with Latinos it is a continuous one.

    So get off your high horse and stop with the garbage talk that somehow your ancestors were more welcomed. You group was treated with the same contempt you are treating others.

  4. Jeff,

    As we continue to provide an ever-increasing number of government services (single-payer healthcare is on the way) we must take steps to ensure that we provide for our citizens first. This is not radical, but rather in the norm for most countries.

  5. Well, this statement pretty well frames and sums up the attitude that pervades in the "Hispanic Community" in general: "The Hispanic advocacy group Presente.org immediately released a statement applauding the president for rallying behind reform but criticized his continued focus on enforcement."

    There is a vast difference between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigration. Like many Commenters suggest, USA BORDERS need to be locked and secured, absolute ENforcement of E-VERIFY with both employers and employees being accountable, NOT giving blanket AMNESTY, and coming into and residing in the USA legally is the focus.

    To come into the USA, reside in the USA, and work in the USA ILLEGALLY is CRIMINAL!!!! These groups within the "Hispanic Community" are advocating criminal behavior, a quiet takeover, if you will, of reclaiming the lost ancient lands their ancestors once owned. They have covertly declared a type of war to regain what was lost. In my 50+ years, I have witnessed this ever growing movement to render the United States government, infrastructure, and its People, legal citizens, powerless, and exploited...it is happening before our very wide open eyes.

    If you ever notice, this group blatently displays its flags and cultures most of the time elevating it/them above the USA flag, culture, and customs on American soil. I would never do such a thing in another country, ever. Nor would I enter any country without its permission, and that, my fellow Commenters, is most likely TRUE of you as well. We tend to follow the laws and rules established for the common good of all. They, on the other hand, have a different agenda. Think about it.

    Clamping down on ILLEGAL immigration with these folks is going to get messy and dicey, since our borders are linked. My thoughts are that it will take massive ENforcement, securing our borders, put those who are here ILLEGALLY into custody (whole family so that they remain "unified"), placing them into internment camps until they are legally processed and secure proper and legal United States Citizenship. They made an active choice to be here ILLEGALLY, so I don't have an issue over doing this, as it is very fair, all things considered. It is not harsh, it offers a viable solution, and would put into check what these ILLEGAL individuals and their families are costing each one of us in taxes! Such path to citizenship centers/camps would be compassionate, humane, and safe for them, and for the public at large.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  6. Living on the Colville Reservation and interacting daily with Native people, I get a little different perspective on immigration.

  7. Show us you will ENFORCE OUR LAWS FIRST. Plan B: issue up to 1 million TEMPORARY guest work permits to graduates while SECURING THE BORDERS and tracking VISAs and permits. Enforce against employers and get illegals to leave and let our economy recover. Prohibit illegal benefits of social welfare programs and stolen health care.

  8. Ref: We need to correct the calculations of CBO: ADD IN K-12, higher ed (universities are subsidized by taxpayers), non-gov dispensed health care such as ER's and UMC where individual illegals steal dialysis for upwards of $120K a year. Also add in the non-profits (that receive gov funding for food) services usurped by illegals. And what about the costs to our culture when American seniors are ignored and hungry while illegals keep having babies?