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Obama, sitting down with Spanish-language media, pushes immigration reform

President Obama has largely stayed off center stage during the immigration negotiations in Congress.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Obama has largely stayed off center stage during the immigration negotiations in Congress. But as the immigration debate stalls in the House, the president made the rounds with some Spanish-language network affiliates to make the case for reform.

In an interview with Telemundo journalists from Dallas and Denver, Obama touched on one of the thorniest issues surrounding the immigration debate: making the 11 million undocumented immigrants U.S. citizens and not creating a second-class resident status.

“It does not make sense to me, if we’re going to make this once-in-a-generation effort to finally fix the system, to leave the status of 11 million people or so unresolved,” said Obama.  “And certainly for us to have two classes of people in this country, full citizens and people who are permanently resigned to a lower status, I think that’s not who we are as Americans,” he added. Obama said if comprehensive immigration reform passes, people who choose to become full citizens will become contributing members to the U.S. economy and add to the economy.

Addressing the claims made by House Republicans that the border is not secure enough, the president argued the unprecedented number of resources at the border had made it the safest in decades and said the bill passed by the Senate last month sufficiently addresses increased security.

“So we know we’ve made a difference,” the president said about border security.  "We can’t make it perfect. We’re never going to have zero people crossing the border without the proper papers [and] that’s not true at our northern border; that’s not true at our Southern border.”

President Obama also stressed the need for complete and comprehensive legislation, unlike the piecemeal approach advocated by some Republicans in the House.

“The danger of doing it in pieces is that a lot of groups want different things, and there’s a tendency, I think, to put off the hard stuff until the end,” Obama said.  “So we need to, I think, do this as a complete package… It’s time for us to stop worrying about politics and worry about doing the right thing for the country.”

University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto says the president’s interviews with Spanish-language media were a smart move on a variety of fronts. For one, “it reminds members of Congress what he’s looking for in the bill, since ultimately it won’t get passed without his signature.”

But as some members of the House dig in their heels on immigration legislation, Barreto says the president’s interviews put the Republicans in a corner. ”The GOP has to be careful they are not conceding all the positive messages in the Spanish-language media to Obama,” he says. If anything, Barreto adds, Republicans like Speaker John Boehner, Congressman Eric Cantor and Congressman Paul Ryan should do their own interviews with Latino media. ”Latino voters look forward to hearing from Republicans on immigration."

Nevertheless, Obama has to tread lightly, explains Barreto.  ”If he pushes too hard on immigration, there is a danger that Republicans will perceive it as the ‘Obama immigration bill’ and shut off all compromise–he needs to continue to make it the bipartisan Rubio-McCain-Schumer-type bill.”

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