US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the briefing room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington, DC.
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Obama gives ultimatum to Republican critics on immigration


President Barack Obama gave a feisty rebuke to his Republican critics on immigration and an ultimatum: I can work with Republicans, if they aren’t nativist.

“If your view is that immigrants are either fundamentally bad to the country or that we actually have the option of deporting 11 million immigrants, regardless of the disruptions, regardless of the cost and that that is who we are as Americans, I reject that,” the president said in an interview with NPR published on Monday. 

“On immigration, I probably can’t” work with them, he told NPR. “Steve King and I fundamentally disagree on immigration.” (King is an Iowa Republican who gained infamy when he said that for every successful, young illegal immigrant there are 100 with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from transporting drugs across the desert and advocates for the mass deportation of all illegal immigrants.) 

“On the other hand, I think there are a lot of Republicans who recognize that not only do we need to fix a broken immigration system, strengthen our borders and streamline the legal immigration system, but we have to show realism,” Obama said, celebrating the idea of creating a path to citizenship that includes paying back taxes, fines, and undergoing background checks that was suggested by a bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate last year.

Just after the midterm elections, the president used his executive authority to delay the deportations of immigrants who have been in the country for a long period of time and haven’t committed crimes, prompting outrage from the GOP who said the president was violating the law, acting like a king, and “poisoning the well” – in other words, infuriating the GOP so much that they wouldn’t vote for any further immigration reform bills.

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Indeed, since the president’s announcement, Republicans have sought to censure him for his action. Sen. Ted Cruz threatened to block federal nominations, though that effort backfired.

“By me having taken these actions, does that spur those voices in the Republican Party who I think genuinely believe immigration is good for our country?” Obama said. “Or does it simply solidify what I do think is – is a nativist trend in parts of the Republican Party?  And - and if it’s the latter, then probably we’re not going to get much more progress done and it’ll be a major debate in the next presidential election.”

The president rejected the idea that there are serious, conservative concerns with immigration that aren’t being addressed.

“What are those concerns and – and how is it that I’m not addressing them?  If the concern is border security, we’ve got more resources, more border police, more money being spent at our borders than any time in the last 30, 40 years.  If the concern is the flow of illegal workers into the country,  that flow is about half of what it was and is lower than any time since the 1970s,” he said. “If you’re concerned that somehow immigrants – illegal immigrants are a drain on resources and forcing, you know, Americans to – to pay for services for these folks, well, every study shows that’s just not the case. Generally, these folks don’t use a lot of services and my executive action specifically is crafted so that they’re not a drain on taxpayers; instead, they’re going to be paying taxes, and we can make sure that they are.”