President Obama delivered a much awaited speech on immigration reform today before a crowd of cheering supporters in Las Vegas. The speech included few surprises in terms of content. He called for fast congressional action on a bill that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, increased border and workplace enforcement and new avenues for legal immigration.
“The good news is that, for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution,” Obama said.
Obama’s speech launches the immigration reform push into high gear. Though he voiced support for a vison similar to the one offered by a bipartisan group of eight senators yesterday, the president said that if Congress does not act quickly, he will send his own legislation to the Hill.
The speech was thin on details about what such a bill would look like and functioned mainly as a rallying call to push for reform. He said he supports a plan that includes additional border and workplace enforcement and a clear path to citizenship.
Obama claimed as accomplishments his track record of record numbers of deportation and expanded border security. The crowd cheered when he mentioned DREAMers and his administrative decision to grant young immigrants temporary protection from deportation.
Advocates in recent days have notched up calls on the president to act administratively again to slow deportations while the reform deliberations move ahead. The Obama administration has deported about 400,000 people in each of the last four years, a rate higher than any previous president.
“The President should immediately follow his speech with an order suspending deportations as the first step to open a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” said Pablo Alvarado, the director of the National Day Laborers Network, in a statement. “Demonstrating that all 11 million undocumented people deserve the same relief given to the Dreamers will set the debate in the right direction and remove divisions between ‘us and them’.”
Advocates for gay and lesbian immigrants sent similar demands. Currently, the federal Defense of Marriage Act bars gay and lesbian couples from sponsoring undocumented partners to get green cards.
“We need President Obama to show real and tangible leadership on immigration issues, and to immediately call for a moratorium on deportations,” Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, of the LGBT immigrants rights groups GetEQUAL, said in a statement. “Hundreds of thousands of LGBT immigrants like myself would benefit from that call in enormous ways while we want for Congress to act.”
The president has said he supports language in a law that provides bi-national same-sex couples with rights like those of straight couples but has refused to halt the deportations of non-citizen partners. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the law that blocks same sex couples from federal benefits like marriage rights.
Republicans have voiced opposition to equity for same-sex couples in an immigration bill. Sen. Lindsay Graham, a key Republican supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, said earlier today that GOP support for a reform package would wither if it includes provisions about gay couples. Other conservative immigration reformers have said the same, and the bi-partisan framework for immigration reform released yesterday by Graham and seven other senators includes no mention of the issue.
Members of Congress will now begin to craft language for an immigration bill. Who will be included and who left out becomes a central question moving forward.