Last night [20 Nov. 2014] President Obama issued an executive order regarding immigration. A conservative-leaning independent, I tuned in with a certain amount of apprehension. Knowing that his remarks would spark controversy – namely since both major parties were either praising or condemning his actions before he even spoke – I wanted to keep a record of my original reactions untainted by other interpretations.
A Transcript of President Obama’s Remarks on Immigration
Given 20 November 2014
With Commentary by this Author in Italics
President Barack Obama:
My fellow Americans, tonight I’d like to talk with you about immigration. For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations.
I understand your point, Mr. President, but I really wouldn’t call our tradition welcoming. Perhaps manipulative or exploitative, but not welcoming. Just ask the Irish, Germans, Italians, Russians, Chinese, Burmese, Thais, or Mexicans. But I understand: we’re all immigrants (unless we’re direct descendents of a Native People). Please, continue.
It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities. People not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.
But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it. Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their wages good wages benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but this is something that’s always bothered me: if illegal immigrants genuinely wanted to participate in the American system and – as you say – “embrace those responsibilities,” wouldn’t they have come into the United States the legal way?
It’s been this way for decades. And for decades we haven’t done much about it. When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders.
Three words, Mr. President: Fast and Furious. I haven’t forgotten that you – or someone in your administration – allowed guns to illegally cross the border into Mexico in hopes of undermining the Second Amendment. Even if you didn’t have a priori knowledge, you blocked any indictment brought against Attorney General Holder. Secure border. Ha!
Today we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half.
Although this summer there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years.
Overall the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.
And, as the saying goes, we’ll let the facts speak for themselves.
Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix. And last year 68 Democrats, Republicans, and independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise. But it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of Border Patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.
Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of bill – a simple yes or no vote – it would have passed with support from both parties. And today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote. Now I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president, the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me, that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.
Thank you for not vociferously slamming your political opponents as you have in the past. Very classy, Mr. President. I mean it. However, I’m not sure how you participated in that bipartisan compromise.
Furthermore, you are entirely correct that you have the right to execute executive orders. I’m just concerned about what those orders will be.
Tonight I’m announcing those actions.
Take a deep breath. Things are about to get serious.
First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over.
Increased border security? I’m on board with that.
Second, I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders proposed.
Do you mean making it easier for those here on student or work visas to stay permanently? I thought this speech was about illegal immigration.
Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already had live in our country.
So far so good, but how do you plan on dealing with those undocumented immigrants?
I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous.
Many conservatives would agree with you. In fact, many conservatives I know believe all illegal immigrants should be deported.
That’s why over the past six years deportations of criminals are up 80 percent, and that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.
But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is millions of immigrants in every state, of every race and nationality still live here illegally.
Thank you! So many of my students think that only people from Central or South America are illegals. The reality is that we have people from all over the world living here illegally.
And let’s be honest, tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans.
You’re right, it is unrealistic. It’s funny and sad that so many conservatives want smaller government and are yet willing to increase government spending to deport illegals. That isn’t a good use of government money.
However, you’re wrong that it’s not “who we are as Americans.” We have a long history of censoring or imprisoning those who don’t follow the majority opinion. I suggest you research the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Know-Nothing Party, the KKK, the treatment of Communists and Socialists in the early 1900s, and the history of the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.
After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard often in tough, low paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of the kids are American born or spent spent most of their lives here. And their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.
As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it, they are a part of American life.
Good attempt at drawing in conservatives by quoting President Bush.
I wonder if they’ll listen?
Now here is the thing. We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.
Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.
Proper separation of powers. I like it.
I know some of the critics of the action call it amnesty. Well, it’s the not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today. Millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That’s the real amnesty, leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it to our character.
He’s right, you know. Both parties use immigration to garner votes without actually doing anything. Maybe that was the point all along?
What I’m describing is accountability. A common sense middle- ground approach. If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.
Sorry not sorry, coyotes. Looks like your job just got harder.
The actions I’m taken are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century.
And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.
Excuse me, Mr. President, but the issue has never been about the legality of executive orders as a whole. The issue has always been the scope of executive orders. Please understand this.
Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal breaker on every issue. That’s not how our Democracy works, and Congress shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this.
Exactly so. However, it goes both ways. If the Democrats truly wanted to prove themselves the better party, they won’t pursue the same partisan tactics the Republicans used while they were the minority party. I’m no Democrat by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ll respect anyone – regardless of party – who treats others with decency and respect.
Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs right now is a common purpose, a higher purpose. Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight, but I understand with the disagreements held by many of you at home.
Or, they would support them if they actually listened to them. Unfortunately, I think many conservatives tuned you out as soon as you began speaking.
Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship.
I know some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time they already feel they’ve gotten a raw deal for over a decade. I hear those concerns, but that’s not what these steps would do.
If you heard these concerns, why did you pass the ACA? If I couldn’t afford insurance before, what makes you think the government’s mandate that I purchase insurance will automatically make it affordable? $200 per month might be cheap, but it’s still more than I can afford. Sorry, I digress. Back to the issue at hand: immigration.
Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.
I know some who would disagree with that. They claim the first immigrants (i.e. Europeans) committed – or attempted – genocide. Just look at all the calls to remove Columbus Day as a federal holiday.
That said, I agree. Immigration is a net gain for any society, if only for the fact that they take the jobs most Americans are unwilling to do. Conservatives: please note the difference between unwilling and unable. Immigrants aren’t generally taking jobs that Americans want; they’re taking jobs American’s won’t do.
Because for all the back and forth in Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are a country and who we want to be for future generations.
Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?
If the past is any indication, we’re the former. Yes. Definitely the former.
Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families and works together to keep them together? Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us, or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America? That’s what this debate is all about.
As a nation? Cruelty. Remember Elián González?
Are we educating the world’s best and brightest? America’s educational system is considered one of the most dysfunctional systems in the first world. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe. That’s why we need educational reform, right?
We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration. We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears. I know the politics of this issue are tough, but let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past years I’ve seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs without taking a dime from the government, and at risk any moment of losing it all just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who except for the circumstances of their birth are as American as Malia or Sasha, students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in the country they love.
But if they came in legally, they wouldn’t have to worry. In this case, they brought it on themselves, didn’t they?
These people, our neighbors, our classmates, our friends, they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study and serve in our military. And, above all, contribute to American success.
I’ve always wondered why we allow non-citizens to serve in our military. Can anyone answer this?
Now tomorrow I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was 4 years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS. And then she became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mom cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school, not because they didn’t love her, but because they were afraid the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant. So she applied behind their back and got in.
Hooray for PBS (and NPR)!
I must confess, as soon as you said “Astrid” I thought of this:
Still, she mostly lived in the shadows until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her. And today Astrid Silva a college student working on her third degree.
Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid?
I hope not. We need more dragon-riding immigrants. Sorry. That was wrong of me. Let’s set the record straight. This is Astrid Silva:
Or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in? Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.
Exodus 22:1 and 23:9 to be exact, and The Federalist already beat me to the punch in pointing out both the misapplication of Scripture and the [possible] breach in the so-called “Wall of Separation” between Government and Religion.
Please note that I object to The Federalist’s use of the word amnesty. Simply because I link to an article or website does not mean I agree wholeheartedly with everything in said article or on said website.
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless this country we love.
So, we end on an emotional appeal. I suppose that should be expected.
My overall opinion?
Again, I’m not an apologist for President Obama. I just so happen to think that on this one particular topic he made a well-formed and reasoned decision. This doesn’t make me a traitor to America, regardless of what Rush Limbaugh says.
However, all this does is put a bandage on the severed artery. If we’re really going to have immigration reform, we need to change the way we deal with future immigrants, not the ones who are already here.
A good first step would be to abolish unconditional citizenship by soil (jus soli), whereby anyone born on United States soil is automatically a United States citizen.
But, that’s just my two cents. What’s yours?