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Obama Calls For Continued Immigration Reform Push

President Barack Obama speaks at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, May 12, 2011

President Barack Obama speaks at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, May 12, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama says he will continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

In an address to the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast Thursday, President Obama said reforming the nation's immigration system is not just an economic or security imperative, but a "moral imperative."

The president said immigration is a subject that can feed people's "fears of change," but he called on Americans to show empathy and not forget that the nation's population is rooted in immigrants. He urged Hispanic community leaders to keep building the movement for change.

On Tuesday, President Obama challenged lawmakers to overhaul the immigration system, calling it "broken" and saying better laws would lessen the number of people illegally attempting to work in the U.S.

Speaking in the city of El Paso, Texas, on the border with Mexico, Obama proposed giving a path to citizenship to the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, and making it easier for students from other countries to work and start businesses in the United States.

Observers say it is unlikely President Obama will get a comprehensive immigration bill passed in Congress. Republicans control the House of Representatives, and the party is adamantly opposed to providing legal residency for undocumented immigrants, saying it amounts to an amnesty.

The president has faced intense criticism from the Hispanic community for failing to promote the immigration issue during his first two years in office and for the deportation of nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants last year. In his speech in El Paso, the president acknowledged deportations are a source of controversy, but said enforcement efforts were focused on "violent offenders" and convicted criminals.

Hispanics, a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population, gave crucial support to Obama's 2008 election.

In his speech Tuesday, Obama also defended his administration's efforts to secure the borders along the southwestern United States, saying they have resulted in more guns, currency and drugs being seized along the border, and fewer people trying to cross illegally.

The president blamed Republican lawmakers for delaying reform by demanding border security measures be completed first, and said he expected Republicans to continue blocking reform efforts despite the fact that, "all the stuff they have asked for, we have done."

But many Republican lawmakers are insisting that more be done to improve border security first. Many states have passed their own laws on the issue.

Last year, the border state of Arizona passed a measure that would have allowed police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. Officials there say the law is needed to crack down on violent drug trafficking they say is spreading over the border from Mexico.

The Obama administration filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona's law, saying border security is a federal issue. A federal judge blocked key parts of the law in a ruling last year, but Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vowed to take the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.