President Barack Obama on Thursday blamed immigration policy gridlock on “political posturing and special interest wrangling.”
He said the problem cannot be solved “only with fences and border patrols” but said the government should be held accountable for its responsibility to secure the border. Obama also said that businesses should face consequences for knowingly employing illegal immigrants. And he said those who enter the country illegally should own up to their actions before they can begin the process of becoming citizens.
“The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done,” the president said. “I’m ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”
“Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes,” he said. “That is the political and mathematical reality.”
White House officials say recent developments influenced Obama’s decision to give his first formal speech on the issue as president, most notably Arizona’s enactment of a tough anti-immigrant law and the reaction to it across the country. But advocates also have been pressing him to give such a speech as a demonstration of his commitment to seeing the effort through.
Obama didn’t dwell on the Arizona law in the speech. He called it an understandable byproduct of public frustration with the government’s inability to tighten the system, but also said the law is ill-conceived, divisive and would put undue pressure on local authorities.
In the speech, Obama extolled America’s history as a melting pot of immigrants and lauded their many contributions to the nation.
But an Associated Press-GfK Poll conducted in May found 57 percent saying illegal immigrants are mostly a drain on society and 38 percent said they believe immigrants make a contribution. Eight in 10 said the federal government should do more to keep immigrants from illegally entering the U.S.
Some Republicans, like Kyl, are pushing a “border security first” approach focused on enforcement.
“It won’t work,” Obama said. He said there now are more “boots on the ground” on the U.S.-Mexico border than ever before and that “our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols.”