President Barack Obama went to Las Vegas, Nevada Tuesday to lay out his plan for comprehensive immigration reform. Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at a local high school he said “Now’s the time for common sense comprehensive immigration reform.”
“I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity,” he said.
The president pointed out that for too long the debate over immigration was about “us” versus “them.” The ones who came first have always wanted to keep others out. But if you know anything about our history, unless we are a Native American, we all used to be “them.”
Fixing the immigration problem is necessary to strengthen our economy, the president asserted. He pointed out how immigrants started businesses like Google and Yahoo, and created entire new industries. He said in recent years one in four new high tech companies were started by an immigrant. He said one in four small business owners are immigrants who came here seeking opportunity.
“Right now we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in America—11 million men and women from all over the world who live their lives in the shadows. Yes the broke the rules... But these 11 million men and women are here and many have been here for years. The overwhelming majority of these individuals are ...contributing members of the community...they are woven into the fabric of our lives,” the president said.
He said that many undocumented immigrants, who go to work every day, do so in a shadow economy where their employers pay them less than minimum wage, or work them overtime without compensation. “When that happens it’s just not bad for them, it’s bad for the economy because all the businesses who try to do the right thing... have to compete with companies that are breaking the rules,” Obama told the crowd.
The president said we need reform to help the people who want to come here legally but have a hard time doing so. He said there are brilliant students who are being educated in our colleges and universities who would like to stay here after graduation. Instead, we send them home to help some other country when we need their talents and knowledge here.
Obama’s plan had these elements: First, there would be continued enforcement of the borders and he would punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. Secondly, he would make it easier for those who want to come here legally to do so including those studying in universities. Thirdly, those who are already here would have the right to earn a green card and eventually citizenship. They would have to take a background check, pay back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line.
However, the president said they would all know that they are guaranteed citizenship if they work to achieve it.
Calling to mind the fact that Ted Kennedy and George Bush worked together on immigration reform, the president said it is possible for a bipartisan consensus. He praised the work of bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both Houses who are committed to this issue. That included a group of Senators who announced a framework for reform not that different than the one the president laid out today.
However, beneath the surface, the same partisan battles are smoldering.
In his remarks Tuesday, Obama did not attack Republicans. On the other hand, Senator Marco Rubio, a Tea Party Republican from Florida, sent out a press release Tuesday saying the president “believes reforming immigration quickly is more important than reforming immigration right.” That does not sound like a person seriously interested in passing immigration reform in a bipartisan way.
Rubio wants to run for president and wants to please Hispanics, but does not want to alienate the Republican base. So he is dealing from both ends of the deck. Mitt Romney catered to the GOP base on the issue and look what it got him.
So, questions remain whether Republicans really want immigration reform to pass, or do they just want to go through the motions, and when it dies, blame it on Obama?
For the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows, there is renewed hope that this system will finally be fixed. Let’s hope politics does not get in the way once again.
If you like this article share it, Tweet it, or follow me on Facebook.