Obama, in Iowa, talks about immigration reform

President Obama held a town hall meeting in Ottumwa this afternoon and a college student in the audience asked a question about immigration.

“Welcome, Mr. President. My name is Julie Morales and I’m a student here at Indian Hills…I have a lot of undocumented friends and immigration has been in the news for many, many years and nothing has been done and I was just wondering what your plan was.” 

Obama: “I think it’s going to have to be a plan where all Americans arrive at a common sense consensus about responsibility when it comes to immigration.”

“…We’ve a nation of immigrants.  We were founded on immigration. That’s what that whole Plymouth Rock thing was about — immigration…But we’re also a nation of laws and we expect people to follow the rules if they want to immigrate to this country.  That’s only fair, right?”

The crowd applauded.

“So the challenge we have now is how do we set up a system where, yes, we’re welcoming new people to our country,” Obama said, adding immigration is a “huge advantage to America” compared to countries in Europe.  (He misspoke and called Europe a single country.)

“We constantly are replenishing ourselves with hungry, driven people who are coming here and they want to start a business and our population is younger and more dynamic and that’s a good thing so we want immigration, but how do we do it in a lawful way so that people who are waiting in line back in their home countries doing it the right way aren’t being punished and we’ve got some basic control of our border?”

Obama said the current system is “broken.”  Obama told the crowd “significant progress” had been made in securing the borders.  He called for a crack down on businesses that “purposely” hire undocumented workers to “undercut” the wages of U.S. workers.

“This law that just passed in Arizona, which I think is a poorly conceived law,” Obama said and the audience applauded.  “If you are an Hispanic American in Arizona, your great-grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state but now suddenly if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, your going to be harassed, that’s something that could potentially happen, that’s not the right way to go.”

Obama said the components of immigration reform were as follows:  “make them register, make them pay a fine, make them learn English.” The crowd applauded.  He added those illegal immigrants who register and pay the fine would have to get in the “back of the line” for citizenship.  “If you do it the right way, then you have a chance to become an American citizen,” he said.  The crowd applauded.  “If have that kind of comprehensive approach, then we can once again be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”

“…I’ve been pushing for this. I want it to happen. The only way it’s going to happen is if Democrats and Republicans come together and do this because this is such a volatile issue,” Obama said.  The crowd applauded.  “I will bring the majority of Democrats to the table in getting this done, but I’ve got to have some help from the other side.”

The crowd applauded again. 

“I’ve got to have some help from the other side because we’re not going to solve this problem – it can be exploited for political purposes and the only way to rise above the politics and actually solve the problem once and for all is to make sure that this a bipartisan effort and that’s what we’re pushing for. I hope that we can get it done sometime soon and I’m going to continue to advocate on behalf of finally fixing the system so that we don’t have either the kind of bad laws that we’ve seen in Arizona or alternatively we’ve got half a million illegal folks coming into Arizona without any control. Neither of those things is sensible and we can have a common sense law, but we’re going to have to work together across party lines to make it happen.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.