The president, speaking at a lunchtime press conference at the White House, told reporters that immigration reform is a moral imperative for the country.
“We can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama said responding to a question about how he plans to take on the difficult issue. “It’s not just a Hispanic issue it’s an issue for everybody. It’s American issue that we need to fix.”
Obama has talked about immigration reform occasionally during his first term, but hasn’t devoted sustained effort to getting legislation passed. I interviewed his former Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes on the issue last year. The initiative the White House was planning then went nowhere, but Obama said he’ll try again if re-elected.
“We didn’t get it done and the reason we haven’t gotten it done is because what used to be a bipartisan agreement that we should fix this ended up being a partisan issue,” Obama said today, before offering some kudos to Bush, a Texan who understood better than most the unique challenges that illegal immigration poses to the United States.
“I give a lot of credit to my predecessor George Bush and his political advisers who said this should not be just something the Democrats support; the Republican Party is invested in this as well,” Obama said. “That was good advice then and it’s good advice now.
Obama is faring better among potential Hispanic voters than anyone in the Republican presidential field at the moment, a fact he certainly hopes to capitalize on in the upcoming election.
“My hope is that after this election the Latino community will have sent a strong message thatr they want a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. “That involves making sure we’ve got tough border security – and this administration has done more for border security than just about anybody – that we are making sure that companies aren’t able to take advantage of undocumented workers…and that we’ve got a path so that all of those folks whose kids often are U.S. citizens and are working with us and living with us in our communities and not breaking the law and trying to do their best to raise their families, that they have got a chance to be a fuller part of our community.”
Obama has resisted presenting Congress with ready-made legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, but suggested he would provide a road map for our national legislature after the election – providing he wins.
“We’re going to be putting forward, as we have done before, a framework, a proposal for legislation that can move the ball forward and get this thing done,” the president said. “But ultimately, I can’t vote for Republicans. Ultimately they are going to have to come to the conclusion that this is good for the country and that this is something that they, themselves, think is important. Depending on how Congress turns out we’ll see how many Republicans we need to get it done.”