President Barack Obama made a plea Tuesday to garner public support behind a series of reforms to the country’s immigration system, which could offer around 11 million illegal immigrants a quicker way to become citizens.
Obama, whose re-election was buoyed heavily by Latino voters, unveiled his proposals in Las Vegas just one day after a bipartisan group of senators came up with a plan to overhaul the country’s immigration system, which has not seen any major changes in years. Many of Obama’s proposals mirrored what the senators had laid out.
“I believe we’re finally at a moment when comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp,” Obama said, noting that the coming weeks of national debate on the subject will likely “fan the flames” of people’s emotions.
“All those folks—before they were us, they were them,” he said. “They faced resistance from those who were already here.”
The main reason Obama delivered the speech was to praise the bipartisan consensus on the matter—also the first time in years that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers could come to an agreement—and promised to work relatively quickly to take advantage of the new momentum that was built.
“Now’s the time,” he said over and over again.
“We have to deal with the 11 million individuals who are here illegally,” Obama said, adding that those individuals must “earn” their way in this country. But he stressed that there “is a pathway to citizenship in this country,” which was met with applause.
“It won’t be a quick process; it will be a fair process,” the president said, without elaborating much on exactly what he wants to do. He also did not say whether or not the White House would introduce its own separate legislation in Congress.
Obama focused on the current U.S. immigration system, which has been widely criticized for being outdated.
“You shouldn’t have to wait years for your family to join you in America,” Obama said.
In 2011, the president laid out a plan for immigration, but the initiative was not well-received and ultimately dissipated. For this, Obama was criticized for not tackling the issue, but he made promises during his candidacy against Republican challenger Mitt Romney that he would make immigration a priority.
Obama noted that there would likely be resistance toward the new initiative, saying, “There are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart,” but he stressed a level-headed approach.
“It’s important to remember our history. Unless you’re a Native American, you came from someplace else. Someone brought you here,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney elaborated slightly on the course of action the White House will take, saying that some senators wish to connect the proposed pathway to citizenship with their own notions of border security.
“Details need to be worked out,” Carney said at a Tuesday press discussion. “But when it comes to border security … this president’s record is very strong already,” adding that Obama will include “enhancing our border security” as part of the package of reforms.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was one of the senators involved in the bipartisan effort to reform immigration, said he would not bargain with Obama amid reports that the president would not link the immigration pathway to more border security and tracking of illegal workers.
Rubio told Fox News Tuesday that illegal immigrants should not be allowed to have green cards until “the security enforcement stuff is in place.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told MSNBC that lawmakers need to carefully examine the exact wording of the plans outlined by the senators. “We have to make certain that there is not going to be an amnesty that encourages more amnesty,” she said.
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