Obama On Immigration Reform: Politics Not Easy, But 'Now Is The Time'

02/07/2013 12:50 pm ET
  • Elise Foley Immigration And Politics Reporter, Huffington Post

LANSDOWNE, Va. -- President Barack Obama reiterated to House Democrats on Thursday that he is relying on their support for comprehensive immigration reform, even if they fear the political ramifications.

"I recognize that politics aren't always easy, there are regional variations," he said at a conference here for the House Democratic caucus. "I understand that in some places this may end up being a tough issue. But what I also know is that part of our strength is our youth and our dynamism, and our history of attracting talent from all around the world."

Obama's immigration push hit full speed last week with a speech in Las Vegas, where he called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, more border security and better interior enforcement. A bipartisan group in the Senate dubbed the "gang of eight" released a similar framework for reform, but tied green cards to yet-to-be-determined border metrics to disallow immigrants granted provisional status from becoming legal permanent residents until those triggers were met. Obama applauded the work being done in Congress on immigration.

"I am heartened to see Republicans and Democrats starting to be in a serious conversation about getting this done," he said. "Now is the time."

The biggest fight on immigration reform will be over a pathway to citizenship. Many House Republicans have said they might support a middle ground that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., but not to become citizens. Only 10 percent of American voters support such a plan, while 56 percent believe the undocumented should be allowed to eventually become citizens, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

Obama has reiterated repeatedly, both in public and in private meetings with advocates and members of Congress, that he will not accept a bill without a pathway to citizenship, although he did not get into the issue on Thursday.

He acknowledged that the politics of the issue were difficult, as he did later when discussing the need for gun control. But, like Vice President Joe Biden the day before him, he encouraged Democrats to think of what's right first and their own political aspirations second.

"As long as we keep in mind why we came here in the first place, as long as we think back to whatever inspired each of us to say, 'Maybe I can give something back, maybe I can make a difference, maybe my purpose here on earth is not just to think about what's in it for me,'" he said. "Thinking about what's in it for the broader community, my neighborhood, or my state, or my country. If we keep that in mind every single day, I have no doubt that we will continue to make progress."

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