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Obama: 'Long past time' for immigration reform

President Obama tries to reignite the debate on the issue, saying he'd a accept a piecemeal approach as long as it delivered on reform's "core values."
Audience members listen to President Barack Obama as he speaks at an event on immigration reform in San Francsico, Nov. 25, 2013.
Audience members listen to President Barack Obama as he speaks at an event on immigration reform in San Francsico, Nov. 25, 2013.

President Obama reignited the debate on immigration reform on Monday, calling on Republicans to immediately take up the issue, which has been stalled in the House.

“It’s long past time to fix our broken immigration system,” the commander-in-chief said at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco, adding the only barrier is the “unwillingness of certain Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country.”

The House has failed to take up a Senate bill that passed in late June. Speaker John Boehner has said that he has “no intention” of debating the Senate proposal, and is instead pushing for a piecemeal approach. Some GOPers want stricter enforcement and tighter border security as preconditions to any new laws.

Others, the president said, think, “If Obama’s for it, then I’ve got to be against it.”

 PHOTO ESSAY: A broken immigration system hurts workers – and employers

Obama said he believes Boehner is “sincere” in saying he wants reform, adding he’s okay with a step-by-step approach versus passing one all-encompassing bill. “We can carve that bird into multiple pieces…as long as all the pieces get done soon and we deliver on the core values,” said Obama.

The president, in the heavily populated Asian community, noted that one in four residents born outside the U.S. came from Asian countries. Obama noted that while the U.S.  invites many bright students to study here – many in the UC system -- “We don’t invite them to stay….We’re training our own competition rather than invite those incredibly bright young people” to make it in the U.S. and contribute to the economy.

Other undocumented immigrants who have been living here for a long time simply want the opportunity to “contribute to the nation that they love,” the president said.

Obama’s remarks come on the heels of a new poll showing that nearly two in three Americans support providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

According to a report by nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, 63% of Americans are in favor of creating such a pathway, while just 14% back a plan allowing undocumented immigrants to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens. Meanwhile, 18% want a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The survey shows there is little variation along party lines among those who back citizenship: Sixty percent of Republicans, 57% of independents and 73% of Democrats are in favor of such a plan.

Immigration reform was a key issue on the Sunday news shows.  Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the number three Republican in the House, predicted on CBS’ Face The Nation that immigration reform is “going to happen” and that we “need to fix this system.”  The Republican, however, would not lay out a timeframe.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who co-founded immigration reform advocacy group, called immigration reform one of the “biggest civil rights issues of our time” on ABC’s This Week and criticized our current system.

“When you meet these children who are really talented, and they’ve grown up in America and they really don’t know any other country besides that, but they don’t have the opportunities that … we all enjoy, it’s really heartbreaking,” said Zuckerberg.

Obama’s shift to immigration comes as the U.S. and five other world powers reached a landmark nuclear deal over the weekend with Iran. It also comes as Obama’s approval ratings have taken a hit following the rocky rollout of his signature Affordable Care Act. 

Near the end of  his remarks in San Francisco – a stop during a fundraising swing on the West Coast – Obama was interrupted by a heckler standing behind him, urging the president to use his executive order to “stop deportations.”

Obama said that while he badly wants to pass meaningful immigration reform, he cannot without the backing of Congress. “We’re a nation of laws,” said Obama, adding its “easy” to yell at him and “pretend I can do something.” The president said Americans must take the “harder bath, which is to use our Democratic processes” to achieve their shared goals.