White House Correspondent
In a broad, emotionally forceful speech, President Obama
urged lawmakers to come together to reform the country's "broken immigration
system." The president spared no rhetorical flourish in his appeal Thursday, invoking the Latin phrase e pluribus unum
-- "out of many, one" -- and recalling the image of the Statue of Liberty, greeting new arrivals to America as a beacon of the country's hope and prosperity.
Obama, in a speech at American University
, sought to unify the country over what has become a divisive, emotional topic. He tried to deal with extreme views on both sides. To those calling for blanket amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S., Obama "recognized the sense of compassion," but called the approach "unwise and unfair." To those seeking more punitive measures including deportation, the president said such an effort would be logistically impossible and would "tear at the very fabric of our nation." He addressed Arizona's controversial new immigration law, but did not chastise those who back it, saying the measures taken by the state were "understandable," but also "ill-conceived."
Instead, Obama outlined his solutions
(many of which he has asked for in previous statements), including holding businesses accountable for hiring and exploiting illegal immigrants, and demanding "responsibility from those living here illegally." They should admit they have violated the law, he said, register, pay back taxes and fines for their violations, and learn English. Obama repeated that those in the country illegally must "get right with the law before they get in line. This is how we demonstrate what being an American means. Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities."
Obama also called for reform of the broken system of legal
immigration in the U.S., highlighting current improvements but calling for further action, including making "it easier for the best and the brightest to come to start businesses and develop products and create jobs," and repealing laws that punish the children of illegal immigrants. He cited the DREAM Act
in particular as one means of resolving this issue.
The president was specific in his criticisms of why reform had not yet passed, pointing the finger squarely at Republicans
in Congress who he said had either abandoned the effort, or decided to sit on the sidelines. He spoke specifically to GOP leaders, including Sen Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and 10 other Republicans who had previously supported reform legislation in Congress
, saying, "I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that is accountable." The president continued, "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."