Friday, July 02, 2010

First Address on Immigration, Obama Urges Middle Ground Between Blanket Amnesty and Mass Deportations

In First Address on Immigration, Obama Urges Middle Ground Between Blanket Amnesty and Mass Deportations


President Obama delivered his first major speech on immigration Thursday, making an impassioned plea for passing comprehensive immigration reform. We play excerpts of his address, and speak to two guests: Columbia University professor Mae Ngai, author of "Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America"; and Gaby Pacheco, a 25-year old student who along with three other students completed a four-month walk from Miami to Washington, DC earlier this year, talking to people about their experience of growing up undocumented and urging the President to stop deportations.

Mae Ngai, Professor of History and Asian American studies at Columbia University. She is the author of "Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America."

Gabriela Pacheco, 25-year old Ecuador-born student who grew up undocumented in Florida. Earlier this year, she and three other students who call themselves the "Trail of Dreams" walkers walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC calling on the President to stop deportations.

AMY GOODMAN: This is "Democracy Now!,", the war and peace report. I'm Amy Goodman. President Obama delivered his first major speech on immigration Thursday, making an impassioned plea for passing comprehensive immigration reform. He criticized laws in Arizona like SB1070 and noted the long history but immigrant contributions to this country as well as anti-immigrant demagoguery and discrimination. Obama emphasized "In an American is not a matter of blood or birth." Speaking at the American University School of International Service in Washington, the president outlined the scope of the debate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The politics of who is and who is not allowed to enter this country, and on what terms, has always been contentious. And that remains true today. And it's made worse by a failure of those of us in Washington to fix a broken immigration system. There are those in the immigrants' rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status, or at least ignore the laws on the books and put an end to deportation until we have better laws. And often this argument is framed in moral terms: Why should we punish people who are just trying to earn a living? I recognize the sense of compassion that drives this argument, but I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair. It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally. Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable. Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people. They know it's not possible. Such an effort would be logistically impossible and wildly expensive. Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation–– because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric.

AMY GOODMAN: He went on to lay out what he described as a "practical common-sense approach" to immigration, noting the problems with border enforcement and outlining the responsibilities of the undocumented.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work. That's why businesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. Ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well. Finally, we have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English.

AMY GOODMAN: Calling immigration reform a moral imperative, Obama said the responsibility for moving forward lies with Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm ready to move forward; the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward; and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem. Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the highlights of his first major address on immigration made yesterday in Washington. For more, I am joined by two guests. In New York, Mae Ngai is with us, professor of History and Asian American studies at Columbia University, author of "Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America."And on the line from Miami we are joined by Gaby Pacheco, a 25-year old student who came to this country from Ecuador when she was seven. Earlier this year, she along with three other students took a 4-month-long-walk from Miami to Washington, DC talking to people about their experience of growing up undocumented and urging the President to stop deportations. They called their walk the "Trail of Dreams."We're joined now By a student who came here from Ecuador when she was 7. Earlier this year, she along with three other students took a four-month long walk from Miami to Washington, D.C., talking to people about their experience of growing up undocumented and urging the president to stop deportations. They called their walk "The Trail of Dreams." We welcome you to "Democracy Now!" Your response?

MAE NGAI: The President had many positive things to say, I think. He acknowledged the history of immigrants and struck a note that said enforcement alone is not enough and criticized the Arizona law. I think those are all positive things. I think the big elephant in the room the president has not addressed in nobody's really talking about in this debate is why do have illegal immigration? The president suggests illegals come here because they are lawbreakers and chose to come illegally rather than get online. But what Americans do not understand is that line is a 20-year line if you're coming from Mexico. We have a system and what is broken is with a limited number of visas that we give to each country.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think President Obama gave this address?

MAE NGAI: I think he does believes an immigration reform. I think he has compassion—he does have a compassionate approach to the matter, but is also a politician. And I think the number one reason why he gave his address and why he is promoting reform is because the Latino electorate is now very important in American politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Gabriela Pacheco, your response to President Obama's first major address on immigration?
GABRIELA PACHECO: I think that this was the first time that we hear a major speech from the president, but not the first time that we hear him talking about immigration and as a matter of fact, I think that a lot of the people were waiting to hear more concrete examples of how we were going to move the issue forward and I think he did a really good job in laying out the history about the anti-immigrant movement that we are currently facing and hearing here in the country. But at the same time, I think that for a lot of us, who has been working on this issue for many, many years, we felt that it left us empty-handed and also left us with just more confusion and no direction on how we're really going to target this issue that is affecting millions of people.

AMY GOODMAN: Gabriela Pacheco, you clearly feel very strongly about this issue. You marched 1,500 miles, you and three other students. Three of you undocumented. You are risking a lot in doing that. Why did you do that "Trail of dreams"?
GABRIELA PACHECO: We risked it all because we saw we were not living are lives at all. We felt we were incarcerated and in jail in the land of the free. We did it because, myself, I have a bachelor's degree and two other degrees and even though I've been able to show and portray to this country and the world that I deserve an opportunity to live my life, because of the current laws in the system and how it is, I cannot. It was better to stand up for myself and to fight than to see myself going by the wayside.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the four students met with President Obama on Monday. What happened in that meeting?

GABRIELA PACHECO: Since we started walking, our request was for President Obama to have an audience with us. We wanted to tell him what was really happening on the ground. We had seen there's a huge disconnect between the administration and what is really happening in these communities. As a result, we have SB1070, 287g Agreements, more secure communities, and Juan Rodriguez was invited to participate in this meeting. And in this meeting we think that the president had the opportunity to hear from all the advocates mouth the disparity and the anger the Latino and the immigrant community currently has towards the administration. I think it does not have to do with the president himself, but the promises he made in the hope that he brought to our community, which we have not yet seen.

AMY GOODMAN: Gabriela Pacheco, you met Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, the famous Sheriff who is known for his, to say the least, extremely harsh measures when it comes to dealing with prisoners?

GABRIELA PACHECO: That is correct. We went to Arizona because when we were walking, we heard the news of SB1070 signed into law by Jan Brewer. We felt this was a national disaster happening in the country. And as such we needed to go down there and see what never was that we could do. One of the things talking to the community, we saw that Phoenix, people and the immigrants there fear with all the fiber of their being Joe Arpaio. We tried to show the community there is nothing to fear, he is just a regular man like themselves and we went in there to talk to him and tell him to stop hurting our families and that we no longer were afraid of him, so we showed up to his office wearing pink polo shirts to kind of show the community the same way he says he calms his inmates by making them wear pink underwear. We were showing him we did not fear that color and we did not fear being detained and arrested by him. At the same time, we went in there to be as a non-violent movement that the walk was, to continue to spread what we feel is going to change this country, which is breaking into the hearts and minds of the average American, which has for many years been [misconstrued] because of the media, and what is said about this and we went in there to tell our stories personally from our mouths and say, our story is no different than the story of your family and how they can to this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Mae Ngai what to you would be comprehensive immigration reform?

MAE NGAI: As I said before, the main problem in our immigration system, what is broken about it, is not just the administrative backlogs, not just that employers get away with hiring people and flouting labor laws. The problem with the immigration system is we have a ceiling on how many people can come, and that number is distributed to countries in an equal way. Every country has the same maximum number of green cards that can be given out a year. The number is 26,500. So Mexico is the same cap as Belgium or New Zealand. When President Obama says to get online at legally like everybody else, it depends on what country you're coming from. If you are from Mexico, the line could be 20 years, could even be 40 years depending on the category you are applying to. If you're from New Zealand, you do not have to get in line, or there is an administrative wait and there's no line. That is the problem, how we allocate the visas. It is a one size fits all approach when in fact, not all countries are the same size, not all of them have the same needs. And that would be comprehensive reform if we tackled that problem.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us, Mae Ngai, Columbia University Professor, her book "Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.". And also Gabriela Pacheco, for joining us from Miami, who walked "The Trail of Dreams, 1,500 miles to stop deportations.
Unidos Venceremos! United We Will Win!
~Peta-de-Aztlan~ Sacramento, California, Amerika
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible,
make violent revolution inevitable."
~ President John F.Kennedy ~ Killed November 22, 1963

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