July 1st, 2010
01:37 PM ET
8 years ago

Obama seeks middle ground on immigration reform

President Obama delivered a speech on immigration reform Thursday at American University in Washington.

President Obama delivered a speech on immigration reform Thursday at American University in Washington.

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama renewed his push for comprehensive immigration reform Thursday, calling for bipartisan cooperation on an issue that has repeatedly proven to be a major cause of deep social and political division.

The president tried to find what has often proven to be an elusive middle ground on the subject, highlighting the importance of immigrants to American history and progress while also acknowledging the fear and frustration many people now feel with a system that seems "fundamentally broken."

Read more on the belief blog: The White House invited top evangelical pastors to Obama’s speech.

He asserted that the majority of Americans are ready to embrace reform legislation that would help resolve the status of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

"I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that's accountable," Obama told an audience at Washington's American University. "I believe we can appeal not to people's fears, but to their hopes, to their highest ideals. Because that's who we are as Americans."

The president targeted Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there's reason to suspect they're in the United States illegally. It also targets businesses that hire illegal immigrant laborers or knowingly transport them.

The measure - currently under review by the Justice Department - has "fanned the flames of an already contentious debate," Obama said. It puts pressure on police officers to enforce rules that are "unenforceable" while making communities less safe - in part, by making people more reluctant to report crimes. It also has "the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound."

Rounding up everyone in the country who has entered illegally would be both "logistically impossible" and "tear at the fabric of the nation," the president warned.

But at the same time, Obama suggested, it would be wrong to offer blanket amnesty for people who came into the United States unlawfully.

To do so "would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. ... It would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally."

Ultimately, he said, "our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable."

Obama said those who entered the country illegally must admit they broke the law, register with the appropriate authorities, pay taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must "get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship."

The president urged Congress to tackle immigration reform legislation, but stressed that it would require support from both Democrats and Republicans.

"That is the political and mathematical reality," he said.

Obama's remarks, however, immediately received a cold reception from one top Senate Republican.

Obama and congressional Democrats "made a strategic decision to put

immigration on the back burner, and they now claim they can't even propose immigration legislation without a Republican," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "It's time for the president and congressional Democrats to stop the charade. Op-eds, outlines and speeches won't cut it anymore."

Despite Obama's call for bipartisan immigration reform, several senior Democratic sources said Thursday that they see virtually no chance of Congress taking up such a measure before November's midterm elections.

Though some hold out hope for potential movement during a lame-duck session of Congress after the election, most sources say the more realistic earliest target is next year. But even that, according to one source, may be "happy talk."

Still, these sources said that, politically, it was crucial for the president to give a speech like he did Thursday in order to put pressure on Republicans and, more importantly, to reassure angry Latino voters that Democrats haven't forgotten about the issue.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll conducted in late May indicated that public support for beefing up security along the U.S. border with Mexico had grown significantly. According to the survey, nearly nine out of 10 Americans want to beef up U.S. law enforcement along the border with Mexico.

Eight in 10 questioned also supported a program that would allow illegal immigrants already in the United States to stay here and apply for legal residency if they had a job and paid back taxes. But only 38 percent say that program should be a higher priority than border security and other get-tough proposals. Six in 10 said border security was the higher priority.

Obama's speech followed a highly anticipated meeting this week in which the president discussed immigration reform with grass-roots reform advocates.

"From our meeting, it is clear that the president is committed to comprehensive immigration reform and understands that congressional action is needed urgently," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National immigration Forum and a meeting attendee.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included concerns the grass-roots leaders had about reforms to current detention and deportation procedures, Noorani said.

- CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report

Filed under: Immigration • issues • President Obama
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. rich

    Obama want the most radical immigration 'reform' there is, just let them all in, so they can vote DEMOCRAT! Barry Hussein Obama is trying to destroty the United States that we grow up in, he wants the US to be like the failed European nations. But at the G20 meeting, they Europena leaders told Barry he was NUTS on spending our way to prosperity.

    July 1, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  2. MHabib

    First off, this is not a matter of "immigration" reform. The subjects of Obama's speech are not immigrants. They are illegals whose very presence here is a violation of our laws–whch Obama is supposed to enforce.

    Obama's "comphrensive immigration reform" is nothing more than window dressing on his plan to grant amnesty to illegals. This is designed to ensure a Democratic Pary majorty for years to come regardless of the destructive consequences to Americna society.

    This is just another instance of Obama putting party above country.

    July 1, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  3. Midwest

    Middle Ground?????

    Sure give them the middle ground – the ground between there and here – cross "here" then I've got a 3.08 round for you (maybe 2 if I miss with the first shot)

    Send all illegals packing!

    My family immigrated in 1914, through all the proper channels, waited for months in Germany, processed paperwork in hand, legitimate sponsors, etc....

    The illegals of today are not the same, they are thieves, criminals, drug users, and bleed what few resources the US has left dry.

    Send them to France, they'll take anyone

    July 1, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  4. Naqib

    Lot of words to say that he will do nothing...
    Which is what he's best at...

    PS: 1st time unemployment applications up this month to all time high... yea... nice speech in Wisconsin... just another (fact.. lol) filled address to the sheep

    July 1, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  5. MatthewDetroit

    FINISH the Fence and the Wall Barack.

    The money was there until you took it.

    Put up a wall and a fence. Stop the flow into the country first.
    Then you can boot the illegals and they can apply like EVERYONE else has to do.

    Next change the law and stop allowing these illegal women to drop a baby in the street and anchor themselves to this country. That is just a joke that they crawl over the border, squat, have a kid here and then demand amnesty.
    That is a joke.

    July 1, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  6. You Lie!

    Obama cares more about Mexico and the criminals that are here illegally than he does about American citizens! He criticized the Arizona bill before he even read it when it mirrors the federal law already on the books. He's catering to illegal aliens instead or securing our borders and protecting US citizens!

    July 1, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  7. Help Save Maryland

    "Comprehensive Immigration Reform is a classic example of the cure being far worse
    than the disease!

    Any politician who supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform is working against
    the security of our nation and the well being of our citizens.

    Any politician who refuses to work to secure our borders and create an immigration
    system that has integrity is either corrupt or too dumb to keep his (her) job.

    Any politician, irrespective of party affiliation who favors Comprehensive Immigration
    Reform should be shown the door at the next election!"

    July 1, 2010 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  8. Greg Pottstown PA

    Still, these sources said that, politically, it was crucial for the president to give a speech like he did Thursday in order to put pressure on Republicans and, more importantly, to reassure angry Latino voters that Democrats haven't forgotten about the issue.____________________________________________

    That's dems for you, more concerned about the people voting for them getting mad than they are about the people on the border that are scared to let there children out of site for fear they could be shot or kidnapped by the drug cartels.

    July 1, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  9. Steve

    He should not even be THINKING about "legalization" until he can demonstrate he can control the broder against illegal crossings. At the moment he is making the problems worse by failing to even try

    July 1, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    There is no middle ground. Eliminate the problem.

    July 1, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  11. sonny chapman

    With all the "Christians"(followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ) in this country, this should be a snap.

    July 1, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  12. David Johnston

    They are just Rep to stir up trouble, shout shout but don't have any real solutions that work.

    July 1, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. Bingo

    What confidence do the US citizens have that the current administration and Congress would bother to enforce new immigration laws when they can't be bothered to enfore the existing ones? What is needed is comprehensive immigration enforcement, not reform. I have no interest in a massive search effort to round up and deport those illegal immigrants that are not otherwise breaking the law (other than being here illegally) and who stay "below the radar." But any illegal immigrant that comes to the attention of the local, state or federal authorities, especially in the course of a legal investigation, should be immediately deported. We should follow the example of our neighbor to the South and, in the words of President Calderon, "send back them."

    July 1, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  14. AK Steve

    I give Obama credit for trying to find the middle ground. But he should know by now that there is no such thing as middle ground when working with Republicans.

    The GOP is incapable of meeting half way. They will sit and complain about anything, critisize everything and cry about nothing. But actually meeting half way – no... they are incapable of this.

    At least the Dems are getting things done. Healthcare, financial reform, energy policy and soon immigration. That's more than the GOP did in the eight years they had with "w".

    And to be frank – I am glad the GOP isn't participating. Their ideas are about as modern as an 8-track player. Thank God for intelligent, forward thinking, Democrats who work for the people (not BP, Goldman-sacks and all the other GOP buddies).

    July 1, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  15. Cicero

    Obama is not one to accept middle ground on any issue. If Illegals are not granted blanket Amnesty Obama, fellow democrats and the media will be calling opponents Nazi's and racists. The only way US law abiding citizens are going to win this battle is to Vote them out in November. Either we obey all laws or no laws which is it?

    July 1, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  16. Nadeem

    GOP and Tea Partyiers are hillarious on this issue. They want Washington to do their job, but sit on the sidelines. Where is the pressure on the GOP to do something?

    Since Obama has been in washington, Illegal immegration is down, more troops are on the border, crime from immegrants is down. But dont let the facts get in the way of your hatred.

    If this is going to get fixed it needs some leadership fron the GOP – anyine out there?

    July 1, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  17. Rodney Cruz from Texas

    I would tell to my junior Senator John Cornyn that regardless if Democrats play political games with immigration reform, the reality is that most Democrats are on board with comprehensive immigration reform. What Hispanics need to know is if Republicans are willing to work with Democrats and the Hispanic community to solve this problem. So, Senator Cornyn are you willing to work with us or not? When we go to the ballot box on November, should we see Republicans as an obstacle or allies in solving the immigration problem?

    July 1, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  18. Floyd Scott

    Obama does not look for middle ground, it is his way or the highway.
    The majority of American's want the border secured and the illegals sent home. Some would say Obama only misleads in what he says but I say he lies.

    July 1, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  19. Randy, San Francisco

    What middle ground? This is an election year and party loyalists in both political parties will not permit any compromise.

    July 1, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  20. Darko

    There is no middle ground. Enforce the law and ban the following and the border will be secure and our southwestern states will return to safety.

    Ban Sanctuary Cities...they are in violation of federal law and put citizens at undo risk.
    Ban illegal immigrant social programs. Ants follow the sugar...
    Penalize employers of illegal immigrants. Take away the profit motive that exploits immigrants and American workers.
    Require English as mandatory for citizenship.
    Reform the current immigration system to expedite applicants that are educated and productive.
    Secure the border by all means necessary.
    Support the border patrol rather than use illegal criminals to prosecute them for doing their job.
    Clean out the leadership of ICE from the top down.

    Most importantly:
    Tell La Raza to stick it... they can take their cause to Mexico where it belongs.

    July 1, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  21. snow

    Importance of immigrants as stated is true, however, illegal immigrants are not more important than immigrants which have been working on or waiting for citizenship for years.

    July 1, 2010 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  22. NYT:"during this election cycle big oil has paid 12.8 million in contributions, 71% to Republicans"!

    "the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound."

    A simple statement, but it amazes me how many racist neo-con do not get that this is objectionable to ALL American citizens. Stop EVERYONE or NO ONE.

    But still the GObP wonders why Geezer and Gidget had their heads handed to them in '08.

    July 1, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  23. Marlene

    I liked the President's speech on immigration. He challenged the GObP leaders to come to the table and help solve the problem with a comprehensive law. Of course, that invitation to the Party of No, will be thrown away. They just like to "say No". So, the AZ Gov. and all other leaders of the states contemplating establishing their own immigration law, look to the GOP to solve your problem, on a national level. It's not going to happen. Marlene in Mich

    July 1, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  24. gt

    obama has never look for the middle ,, he has got both sides , house and senate.. he dont care .. its bogus and the voters now know it...

    July 1, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  25. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert, but...

    That's his problem, isn't it? He seeks the middle ground on everything. So, basically nothing changes, the status quo is maintained and he still gets called a socialist. Where's the change I voted for? Freaking corporate sellout! Have a nice day!

    July 1, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
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