Presidential town hall debate excerpts – President Barack Obama on immigration

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Excerpts from the presidential town hall debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Oct. 16, 2012

Transcript of President Barack Obama’s remarks on immigration

President Barack Obama: We are a nation of immigrants. I mean we’re just a few miles away from Ellis Island. We all understand what this country has become because talent from all around the world wants to come here. People are willing to take risks. People who want to build on their dreams and make sure their kids have an even bigger dreams than they have.

But we’re also a nation of laws. So what I’ve said is we need to fix a broken immigration system and I’ve done everything that I can on my own and sought cooperation from Congress to make sure that we fix the system.

The first thing we did was to streamline the legal immigration system, to reduce the backlog, make it easier, simpler and cheaper for people who are waiting in line, obeying the law to make sure that they can come here and contribute to our country and that’s good for our economic growth.

They’ll start new businesses. They’ll make things happen to create jobs here in the United States.

Number two, we do have to deal with our border so we put more border patrol on the — any time in history and the flow of undocumented works across the border is actually lower than it’s been in 40 years.

What I’ve also said is if we’re going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that’s what we’ve done. And what I’ve also said is for young people who come here, brought here often times by their parents. Had gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag. Think of this as their country. Understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers. And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship.

And that’s what I’ve done administratively. Now, Governor Romney just said, you know he wants to help those young people too, but during the Republican primary, he said, “I will veto the DREAM Act”, that would allow these young people to have access.” His main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, “We’re going to encourage self-deportation.” Making life so miserable on folks that they’ll leave. He called the Arizona law a model for the nation. Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers.

You know what? If my daughter or yours looks to somebody like they’re not a citizen, I don’t want — I don’t want to empower somebody like that. So, we can fix this system in a comprehensive way. And when Governor Romney says, the challenge is, “Well Obama didn’t try.” That’s not true. I have sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term. And I said, let’s fix this system. Including Senators previously who had supported it on the Republican side. But it’s very hard for Republican’s in Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, if their standard bearer has said that, this is not something I’m interested in supporting.

I do want to make sure that — I do want to make sure that we just understand something. Governor Romney says he wasn’t referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it; not E-Verify, the whole thing. That’s his policy. And it’s a bad policy. And it won’t help us grow.

Look, when we think about immigration, we have to understand there are folks all around the world who still see America as the land of promise. And they provide us energy and they provide us innovation and they start companies like Intel and Google. And we want to encourage that.

Now, we’ve got to make sure that we do it in a smart way and a comprehensive way, and we make the legal system better. But when we make this into a divisive political issue, and when we don’t have bipartisan support — I can deliver, Governor, a whole bunch of Democrats to get comprehensive immigration reform done, and we can’t…we can’t — we have not seen Republicans serious about this issue at all. And it’s time for them to get serious on it. This used to be a bipartisan issue.

###

 


Learn More: