President Obama’s announcement in the White House Rose Garden today that he was shifting U.S. immigration policy through executive order effective immediately brought howls from anti-illegal immigration Republicans, who suggested Obama was trampling the power of Congress to make laws. Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King said he planned to sue the president. The transcript of the announcement released by the White House includes interruptions made by an attendee at the event determined to voice the view that Obama was “importing” immigrants who would take jobs from American citizens.
Pro-immigration policy reform groups lauded the decision, frustrated for years by Capitol Hill standoffs and by Obama White House dithering. The order applies to “Dreamers,” or young people covered by the long-proposed-but-never-passed DREAM Act. Dreamers are young people brought to this country as children, who have gone to school here and mostly know no other home. Obama’s order specifically applies to people under 30 who arrived in the country before they turned 16 and who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. They must have earned a U.S. high school diploma, be attending school or have served in the military. They must have no criminal record. People who qualify likely number in the hundreds of thousands. They will no longer be deported and are eligible for work visas.
Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a strong advocate for immigration reform and for the DREAM Act, celebrated the move as brave and overdue.
“I applaud the Obama administration… for taking this common-sense step toward a more sane immigration policy. This decision will allow hundreds of thousands of young people to legally support their families, contribute to our nation, pay taxes, and make our country safer and stronger.
“We should be investing scarce law enforcement resources protecting Americans from serious criminals rather than wasting taxpayer money deporting bright, hard-working students and soldiers who have broken no law. We must take these steps now until we have a Congress that is ready to work with President Obama to pass the real solution: comprehensive immigration reform.”
In a speech in Denver last October at the Metro State Auraria campus, Obama said he knew Americans were tired of gridlock in Washington and promised to take action through executive orders, like the one he announced today, to move policy forward.
“We’re not going to wait for Congress,” he said. “I’m going to act with or without Congress. Where they won’t act, I will, through a series of executive orders… We’re going to look every day to see what we can do without Congress.”
Immigration policy has been a subject of deep division in recent years. Politicians on the right have taken increasingly hardline stances against illegal immigrants, pushing laws designed to intimidate them in ways critics say are unconstitutional. The rhetoric used in making the case for tougher laws or more intense enforcement of laws on the books has often become inflammatory and degrading. Speaking at a Tama County Republican forum in Iowa two years ago, GOP congressional candidate Pat Bertroche told supporters he wanted to “microchip them” like dogs.
“I think we should catch ’em, we should document ’em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going,” he said. “I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?”
The Latino voting bloc in the U.S. is the fastest-growing ethnic voting bloc in the nation and likely crucial to win in most swing states like Colorado this year.
All of the Republicans running for the presidency, including likely nominee Mitt Romney, took hard stands during the primary against immigration reform and directly opposed the DREAM Act.
The transcript of Obama’s speech in the Rose Garden today with the interruptions coming repeatedly at the end is a revealing artifact of the politics that have frozen immigration policy for decades.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 15, 2012
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON IMMIGRATION
2:09 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. This morning, Secretary Napolitano announced new actions my administration will take to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient, and more just — specifically for certain young people sometimes called “Dreamers.”
These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents — sometimes even as infants — and often have no idea that they’re undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver’s license, or a college scholarship.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.
That’s what gave rise to the DREAM Act. It says that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here for five years, and you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, you can one day earn your citizenship. And I have said time and time and time again to Congress that, send me the DREAM Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right away.
Now, both parties wrote this legislation. And a year and a half ago, Democrats passed the DREAM Act in the House, but Republicans walked away from it. It got 55 votes in the Senate, but Republicans blocked it. The bill hasn’t really changed. The need hasn’t changed. It’s still the right thing to do. The only thing that has changed, apparently, was the politics.
As I said in my speech on the economy yesterday, it makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans — they’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country — to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents — or because of the inaction of politicians.
In the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we’ve tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places. So we prioritized border security, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history — today, there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past 40 years. We focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education. And today, deportation of criminals is up 80 percent. We’ve improved on that discretion carefully and thoughtfully. Well, today, we’re improving it again.
Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.
Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is —
THE PRESIDENT: — the right thing to do.
Q — foreigners over American workers.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, sir. It’s not time for questions, sir.
Q No, you have to take questions.
THE PRESIDENT: Not while I’m speaking.
Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act. There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments. And we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our 21st century economic and security needs — reform that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty about the workers that they’ll have. Reform that gives our science and technology sectors certainty that the young people who come here to earn their PhDs won’t be forced to leave and start new businesses in other countries. Reform that continues to improve our border security, and lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Just six years ago, the unlikely trio of John McCain, Ted Kennedy and President Bush came together to champion this kind of reform. And I was proud to join 23 Republicans in voting for it. So there’s no reason that we can’t come together and get this done.
And as long as I’m President, I will not give up on this issue, not only because it’s the right thing to do for our economy — and CEOs agree with me — not just because it’s the right thing to do for our security, but because it’s the right thing to do, period. And I believe that, eventually, enough Republicans in Congress will come around to that view as well.
And I believe that it’s the right thing to do because I’ve been with groups of young people who work so hard and speak with so much heart about what’s best in America, even though I knew some of them must have lived under the fear of deportation. I know some have come forward, at great risks to themselves and their futures, in hopes it would spur the rest of us to live up to our own most cherished values. And I’ve seen the stories of Americans in schools and churches and communities across the country who stood up for them and rallied behind them, and pushed us to give them a better path and freedom from fear –because we are a better nation than one that expels innocent young kids.
And the answer to your question, sir — and the next time I’d prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask that question — is this is the right thing to do for the American people —
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t ask for an argument. I’m answering your question.
Q I’d like to —
THE PRESIDENT: It is the right thing to do —
THE PRESIDENT: — for the American people. And here’s why —
Q — unemployment —
THE PRESIDENT: Here’s the reason: because these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions, and are already making contributions to our society.
I’ve got a young person who is serving in our military, protecting us and our freedom. The notion that in some ways we would treat them as expendable makes no sense. If there is a young person here who has grown up here and wants to contribute to this society, wants to maybe start a business that will create jobs for other folks who are looking for work, that’s the right thing to do. Giving certainty to our farmers and our ranchers; making sure that in addition to border security, we’re creating a comprehensive framework for legal immigration — these are all the right things to do.
We have always drawn strength from being a nation of immigrants, as well as a nation of laws, and that’s going to continue. And my hope is that Congress recognizes that and gets behind this effort.
All right. Thank you very much.
Q What about American workers who are unemployed while you import foreigners?
END 2:17 P.M. EDT
[ Image of President Obama in Boulder last month by Troy Hooper ]