By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
President Obama says the ultimate solution for fixing an immigration system that penalizes immigrants and citizens alike is comprehensive reform that strengthens the nation’s security, economy and global competitiveness.
“One way to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else,” Obama said in a speech at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border.
“Reform will also help to make America more competitive in the global economy,” he said.
While the president’s trip to El Paso brought renewed focus to the U.S.-Mexico border, Obama noted that of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, some crossed by sea and air borders illegally, while others broke immigration laws by overstaying their visas.
Most of the security measures that have been created in recent years are getting desired results, lessening crime, preventing violence and blocking some employers from using cheap and illegal labor, but the best approach for Washington is to fix the system as a whole, Obama said. He called for Congress to work with him in crafting a system that will accomplish everyone’s goals.
Over the past several weeks Obama has met with leaders and stakeholders from business and law enforcement, faith-based organizations, current and former elected state and local officials, and influential Hispanics from across the United States. He has also discussed immigration-reform legislation with congressional leaders.
In the El Paso speech Obama set out a blueprint for immigration reform (PDF, 3MB) and what it must provide:
• Secure the nation’s borders and focus enforcement on those who would cause the greatest harm, such as those who engage in illegal drug trafficking and terrorism.
• Hold accountable those employers who deliberately hire and exploit undocumented workers.
• Strengthen the legal immigration system and stop punishing innocent young people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
• Hold accountable those living here illegally by requiring them to register, undergo a background check, pay taxes and learn English, all before becoming eligible for full citizenship.
“What we really need to do is to keep up the fight to pass genuine, comprehensive reform,” Obama told the audience. “That is the ultimate solution to this problem. That’s what I’m committed to doing.”
While in El Paso for the speech, the president and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano toured the Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry, the largest of four crossings with Mexico that comprise the El Paso Port of Entry. El Paso Director of Field Operations Ana Hinojosa led the tour of the Bridge Cargo Facility.
The Bridge of the Americas processes inbound and outbound commercial, private vehicle, bus and pedestrian traffic. U.S. Customs agents conduct about a half-billion inspections annually at 327 ports of entry across the nation, and 10 percent are at El Paso, according to the White House.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)