President Obama and Immigration Reform

President Obama for months has been talking about taking on immigration reform this year.

In a February interview with Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo, the nation’s most popular Spanish-language radio host, Mr. Obama said, "we're going to be convening leadership on this issue so that we can start getting that legislation drawn up over the next several months."

The plan, he said, is to "start by really trying to work on how to improve the current system so that people who want to be naturalized, who want to become citizens, like you did, that they are able to do it; that it's cheaper, that it's faster, that they have an easier time in terms of sponsoring family members.  And then we've got to have comprehensive immigration reform.  Now, you know, we need to get started working on it now.  It's going to take some time to move that forward, but I'm very committed to making it happen."

The New York Times today offers a timeline : "Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall."

Asked about the issue at a town hall meeting on Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 18, 2009, President Obama noted that very day he had met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to talk about this issue directly.

"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," he said, "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. 

"So I don't think that we can do this piecemeal," he said, noting that the government would also have to crack down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers and provide a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work in the U.S.

"And then you've got to say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you've broken the law; you didn't come here the way you were supposed to.  So this is not going to be a free ride.  It's not going to be some instant amnesty.  What's going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine.  You are going to learn English….You are going to go to the back of the line so that you don't get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally."

- jpt

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