WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 11, 2013) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered remarks in the East Room reiterating his strong support for commonsense reform legislation to fix our broken immigration system, and the economic and national security benefits that reform will deliver.
The President praised the bipartisan progress that continues to be made in the Senate, which has its first floor vote on the bill this week, and highlight the broad coalition of leaders who agree that the shared principles of strengthening and increasing border security, providing an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable, and bringing our immigration system into the 21st century must be central to any effort.
Joining the President at the event were law enforcement representatives, business and labor leaders, faith leaders, and Republican and Democratic elected officials who are all also calling on the Senate to pass a bill that meets these important principles. Also present was Mee Moua, President and Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center.
Senate Bill 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act was introduced by Sen. Schumer (D-NY) with seven cosponsors. The Administration strongly supports Senate passage.
The President has repeatedly called on the Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to enact commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform that lives up to America’s heritage as a Nation of laws and a Nation of immigrants and ensures that everyone plays by the same rules. Fixing the Nation’s broken immigration system is an economic, national security, and moral imperative.
The President reiterated his principles for reform earlier this year – continue to strengthen border security; crack down on employers that hire and exploit undocumented workers; create a meaningful pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants while also requiring these individuals to pass background checks, pay taxes and a penalty, learn English, and move to the back of the line; and modernize the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.
The Administration commends the Senate Judiciary Committee for its open and inclusive process for considering S. 744. The Judiciary Committee held multiple hearings and, during five days of markup, adopted dozens of amendments that strengthened and refined this bill. S. 744 is the product of bipartisan compromise, and the members of the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” are also to be applauded for their hard work. As with any compromise, this legislation does not contain every specific element the Administration has called for and it includes problematic provisions, but overall it represents an important step toward the enactment of legislation that encompasses the principles that the President has made clear need to be a part of commonsense immigration reform.
The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to further improve this bill as the full Senate takes the critical next step in creating a fair and effective 21st century immigration system. Obama said that over the past two decades, our immigration system hasn’t kept pace with changing times and hasn’t matched up with our most cherished values.
“In recent years, one in four of America’s new small business owners were immigrants,” Obama said. “One in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by a first- or second-generation American. Think about that — almost half of the Fortune 500 companies when they were started were started by first- or second-generation immigrants. So immigration isn’t just part of our national character. It is a driving force in our economy that creates jobs and prosperity for all of our citizens.”
“Right now, our immigration system invites the best and the brightest from all over the world to come and study at our top universities, and then once they finish — once they’ve gotten the training they need to build a new invention or create a new business — our system too often tells them to go back home so that other countries can reap the benefits, the new jobs, the new businesses, the new industries. That’s not smart. But that’s the broken system we have today.
“Right now, our immigration system keeps families apart for years at a time. Even for folks who, technically, under the legal immigration system, should be eligible to become citizens but it is so long and so cumbersome, so byzantine, that families end up being separated for years. Because of a backlog in visas, people who come here legally — who are ready to give it their all to earn their place in America — end up waiting for years to join their loved ones here in the United States. It’s not right. But that’s the broken system we have today.
“Right now, our immigration system has no credible way of dealing with the 11 million men and women who are in this country illegally. And, yes, they broke the rules; they didn’t wait their turn. They shouldn’t be let off easy. They shouldn’t be allowed to game the system. But at the same time, the vast majority of these individuals aren’t looking for any trouble. They’re just looking to provide for their families, contribute to their communities.
“They’re our neighbors. We know their kids. Too often, they’re forced to do what they do in a shadow economy where shady employers can exploit them by paying less than the minimum wage, making them work without overtime, not giving them any benefits. That pushes down standards for all workers. It’s bad for everybody. Because all the businesses that do play by the rules, that hire people legally, that pay them fairly — they’re at a competitive disadvantage. American workers end up being at a competitive disadvantage. It’s not fair. But that’s the broken system that we have today.
“Now, over the past four years, we’ve tried to patch up some of the worst cracks in the system. We made border security a top priority. Today, we have twice as many border patrol agents as we did in 2004. We have more boots on the ground along our southern border than at any time in our history. And in part, by using technology more effectively, illegal crossings are near their lowest level in decades.
“We focused our enforcement efforts on criminals who are here illegally and who are endangering our communities. And today, deportation of criminals is at its highest level ever.
“And having put border security in place, having refocused on those who could do our communities harm, we also then took up the cause of the DREAMers, young people like Tolu who were brought to this country as children. We said that if you’re able to meet some basic criteria, like pursuing a higher education, then we’ll consider offering you the chance to come out of the shadows so you can continue to work here, and study here, and contribute to our communities legally.
“So my administration has done what we can on our own. And we’ve got members of my administration here who’ve done outstanding work over the past few years to try to close up some of the gaps that exist in the system. But the system is still broken. And to truly deal with this issue, Congress needs to act. And that moment is now.
“This week, the Senate will consider a common-sense, bipartisan bill that is the best chance we’ve had in years to fix our broken immigration system. It will build on what we’ve done and continue to strengthen our borders. It will make sure that businesses and workers are all playing by the same set of rules, and it includes tough penalties for those who don’t. It’s fair for middle-class families, by making sure that those who are brought into the system pay their fair share in taxes and for services. And it’s fair for those who try to immigrate legally by stopping those who try to skip the line. It’s the right thing to do.
“Now, this bill isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise. And going forward, nobody is going to get everything that they want — not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But this is a bill that’s largely consistent with the principles that I and the people on this stage have laid out for common-sense reform.”