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President picks up immigration reform

Obama in El Paso

In the stark West Texas sunshine in the U.S. border city of El Paso, TX on May 10, President Obama began a push to overhaul immigration policy, saying his administration had made great strides in making the border as secure as never before.

Even with the bolstered security, he said a more “comprehensive” solution was needed to solve the illegal immigration problem, including a path for over 10 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to become legal citizens.

The explosive politics of the issue were immediately apparent, however, as the president tweaked Republican efforts to increase border security, accusing them of “moving the goalposts.”

"They said we needed to triple the border patrol," said the president, addressing an enthusiastic crowd. "But now they're going to say we need to quadruple the border patrol. Or they'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That's politics."

The president said the U.S. government should enforce its laws on the border and illegal immigrants should be “held accountable” for breaking those laws and should “learn the language” in the U.S. He added, however, they should also be given a path to become legal immigrants. He also pressed for another congressional campaign to pass the DREAM Act [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act], which offers a conditional path to citizenship for students who are the children of illegal aliens.

Republican reaction was critical of some of the president’s motives, his timing on addressing the issue, as well as the substance of proposals.

“The President has again called for amnesty for illegal immigrants without offering a single proposal to actually improve the security of our borders,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY) in a statement following the El Paso speech.

“After nearly two-and-a-half years in office, President Obama has yet to present the American people with a comprehensive plan for securing the border against illegal immigration,” he said. King said the Government Accountability Office has said that only 15 percent of the border is under operational control. “The time has come for real action, not words.”

Even some Democrats said the president’s plans weren’t enough and he shouldn’t waste time trying to get Congress to pass legislation. “The President's diagnosis of the policy and the political problem is perfect, but his proposed remedy -- waiting for the Congress to pass a bill -- misses the urgency of the problem,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), chair of the Immigration Taskforce of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Gutierrez said visa reform and immigration relief is needed immediately.

“The President should say that we will not deport the wives of U.S. soldiers or the class valedictorians or the parents of U.S. citizens until Congress acts to pass broad and sensible reform,” he said.  “If that sparks a fight with Republicans in Congress, let's have that fight.  It is about principle and standing up for what you believe in and what is already in the law.”

“We will not get a bill past the Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, before Election Day 2012 and yet hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be deported and many more thousands of U.S. citizens will see their families destroyed,” he warned.


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