On July 1, 2010, President Barack Obama spoke about immigration during a speech at American University. President Obama addressed the controversy which has erupted after controversial immigration law reforms in Arizona. After reiterating the importance of immigration to America’s development and history, President Obama reinforced the idea that being American is not about being born an American – it can also be a leap of faith. As President Obama said during his speech, “being an American is not a matter of blood or birth. It’s a matter of faith.”
President Obama acknowledged that the current immigration system is “broken” and placed the blame for the immigration system problems on Washington. The President then clearly listed the problems present in today’s immigration system:
1) Border problems. The President noted America’s porous borders do not allow officials to track “who comes in and out of the country as visitors, large numbers avoid immigration laws simply by overstaying their visas.”
2) Illegal immigration. During his speech, President Obama touched on the controversial topic of illegal immigration, noting that the “11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States” create unfair competitive advantages for those who hire them, deprive the state of tax revenues, and create problems in the criminal justice system. As well, President Obama noted that illegal immigration is an affront to those who go to the trouble of immigrating legally.
3) Difficult immigration processes. President Obama, in his speech, acknowledged that the current immigration system is full of “backlogs and bureaucracy” that delay the process. He noted that the current process includes long wait times, “high fees and the need for lawyers.” The President also noted that while immigration visas for students are readily granted, students who wish to remain after their studies usually face considerable barriers. The result is that “we train our competition.”
While President Obama acknowledged that fixing these problems would be difficult, he also spoke decisively against the laws in Arizona, stating that they put undue pressure on local law enforcement and create problems with crimes as well. Instead, President Obama stated clearly that a national law needs to be put in place to deal with immigration issues at a national level.
In his speech, President Obama also made it clear that he would not consider blanket immigration amnesty. He stated that such a move would result in even more illegal immigration and noted that “the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.”
The President also noted that he has asked the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano to enhance enforcement policy immediately, before any new legislation takes place. He noted that personnel for the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces has been doubled and there are more enforcement officials at the Southwest US border than there have ever been.Intelligence personnel along the border have been tripled. All southbound rail shipments are now being screened.
Further, President Obama promised to crack down on employees who hire undocumented workers and promised to create a system that would make it easier for employers to verify immigration status before hiring. The President also noted that undocumented immigrants should be “required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English.” However, he stopped short of outlining a plan concerning how this ambitious task might be accomplished.
President Obama repeated his support of the DREAM act and noted that the immigration system is already improving, with some decreased backlogs, easy application tracking, and more affordable naturalization fees.
The President’s speech is important reading for anyone affected by the nations immigration laws. The full text and video of the speech is available at the White House website
President Obama’s speech also highlights the need for legal immigration. With the President’s commitment to a more equitable immigration system, there has never been a better time to seek immigration status. At the same time, the President’s statement against blanket amnesty makes it clear that undocumented residents need to seek out legal status.
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