US President Barack Obama tackled the divisive issue of immigration reform Thursday, advocating increased government accountability on border security and calling for employers to be held responsible for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
AP - President Barack Obama on Thursday blamed U.S. immigration policy gridlock on "political posturing and special interest wrangling.''
Seeking to rally new momentum to an issue that many advocates had hoped would be completed by this point, Obama laid out his rationale for a comprehensive approach to fixing what he and others, Republicans included, say is a broken immigration system.
Immigration reform has received little attention since Obama took office last year, as he has been dealing with other major issues such as two wars, the Gulf oil spill and overhauling the country's health care system and financial regulations. Lawmakers also have been less than eager to take on the divisive topic ahead of congressional elections in November.
He said in a speech the problem cannot be solved "only with fences and border patrols'' but said the government should be held accountable for its responsibility to secure the border. Obama also said businesses should face consequences for knowingly employing illegal immigrants and that those who enter the country illegally should own up to their actions before they can begin the process of becoming citizens.
"The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done,'' the president said. "I'm ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.''
"Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes,'' he said. "That is the political and mathematical reality.''
Obama took opposition Republicans to task, in particular 11 Republican senators who supported recent efforts to improve the immigration system and then backed away, advocating stricter border control as the solution to curry favor with some voters. He did not name any senator in particular, but told his largely supportive audience at American University that those lawmakers had succumbed to the "pressures of partisanship and election-year politics.''
In response, Sen. Jon Kyl, one of the 11 Republican senators who represents the border state of Arizona, said he had a good reason for his position this time around.
"My constituents have said do everything you can to secure the border first,'' Kyl told Fox News Channel. "It's our job to secure the border, whether or not we end up passing so-called comprehensive immigration reform.''
White House officials say recent developments influenced Obama's decision to give his first speech on the issue as president, most notably Arizona's enactment of a tough anti-immigrant law and the reaction to it across the U.S. But advocates also have been pressing the president to give such a speech as a demonstration of his commitment to seeing the effort through.
Obama did not dwell on the Arizona law in the speech. He called it an understandable byproduct of public frustration with the government's inability to tighten the system, but also said the law is ill-conceived, divisive and would put undue pressure on local authorities.
The law requires police enforcing another statute to clarify a person's immigration status if there is reason to believe they are in the U.S. illegally. Immigrant advocates want the Justice Department, which is reviewing the law, to sue Arizona to block it from taking effect this month.