A project of the Center for Community Change

Obama Puts Immigration Back on the Agenda

Yesterday, after meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss immigration, Barack Obama flew to Costa Mesa California, where he layed out his commitment to just and humane immigration reform. To resounding applause from the crowd, Obama discussed why a piecemeal approach to immigration will not work and why we must bring people out of the shadows and put them on the path to citizenship.

Now, I know this is an emotional issue, I know it’s a controversial issue, I know that the people get real riled up politically about this, but — but ultimately, here’s what I believe: We are a nation of immigrants, number one. Number two, we do have to have control of our borders. Number three, that people who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows, because if they stay in the shadows, in the underground economy, then they are oftentimes pitted against American workers. Since they can’t join a union, they can’t complain about minimum wages, et cetera, they end up being abused, and that depresses the wages of everybody, all Americans. (Applause.)

Obama knows that by continuing the underground world of an undocumented workforce we are not only subjecting immigrants to rampant abuse, but we are hurting all workers who are fighting for better wages and conditions. Comprehensive reform would help to raise the wages of ALL workers, by ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table and can demand equity in the workplace.

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Obama also knows that a piecemeal approach to the issue – passing individual pieces of legislation like E-verify, or wasting millions of dollars on a border wall – is not the solution.

So I don’t think that we can do this piecemeal. I think what we have to do is to come together and say, we’re going to strengthen our borders — and I’m going to be going to Mexico, I’m going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how do we get control over the border that’s become more violent because of the drug trade. We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers. (Applause.) We have to make sure that there’s a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work here or not. But we have to make sure that that verification system does not discriminate just because you’ve got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama.

After months of veritable silence on the issue, Obama is once and for all declaring his comittment to comprehensive immigration reform. And it’s clear that he understands the need for a humane, family-centered approach to the issue.

I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can’t have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it. So we’ve got to deal with that at the same time as we deal in a humane fashion with folks who are putting down roots here, have become our neighbors, have become our friends, they may have children who are U.S. citizens. (Applause.) That’s the kind of comprehensive approach that we have to take. All right. Okay. (Applause.)

While many vocal opponents of comprehensive reform have taken to saber rattling and a politics of division on the issue, I am proud that my President is standing with families, communities and a humane approach to immigration. Remember that critical mass I was talking about yesterday? Well, I think its here.

Click here for a full transcript of yesterday’s Town Hall Meeting.

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