Declaring that “we are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants,” President Barack Obama promised to be persistent on passage of the DREAM Act as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
“My biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote,” said the President during a press conference this afternoon. “I get letters from kids all across the country.”
The President said the letters describe lives of kids who came here when they were five or eight years old. They grew up playing football and dreaming about college. Then when they reach 18 years old they find themselves at risk of deportation.
“‘Even though I am American, even though I feel American, I am at risk of deportation,’” said the President, quoting the letters he reads. “It is heartbreaking, It can’t be who we are.”
The President said he believes that Republican lawmakers know that the DREAM Act is the right thing to do, but are concerned about the politics. He promised to change the politics by speaking about the stories of people whose lives would be enabled by passage of the DREAM Act.
“If the American people knew any ot these kids they woud say of course we want you,” said the President. “That’s who we are. Those are the better angels of our nature.”–gm
Excerpt from Transcript
Juan Carlos López.
Q Gracias, Presidente. Feliz Navidad.
THE PRESIDENT: Feliz Navidad.
Q Mr. President, you’ve been able to fulfill many of your promises. Immigration reform isn’t one of them. Just this last weekend, the DREAM Act failed cloture by five votes, and five Democrats didn’t support it; three Republicans did. How are you going to be able to keep your promise when the Republicans control the House when you haven’t been able to do so with Democrats controlling both the Senate and the House, and when Republicans say they want to focus on border security before they do anything on immigration?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, there are a number of things that I wanted to get accomplished that we did not get accomplished. For example, collective bargaining for firefighters and public safety workers — that was something that I thought was important. We didn’t get it done. I’m disappointed in that. I think we’re still going to have to figure out how we work on energy, and that’s an area that I want to immediately engage with Republicans to figure out.
But I will tell you, maybe my biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote. You know, I get letters from kids all across the country — came here when they were five, came here when they were eight; their parents were undocumented. The kids didn’t know — kids are going to school like any other American kid, they’re growing up, they’re playing football, they’re going to class, they’re dreaming about college. And suddenly they come to 18, 19 years old and they realize even though I feel American, I am an American, the law doesn’t recognize me as an American. I’m willing to serve my country, I’m willing to fight for this country, I want to go to college and better myself — and I’m at risk of deportation.
And it is heartbreaking. That can’t be who we are, to have kids — our kids, classmates of our children — who are suddenly under this shadow of fear through no fault of their own. They didn’t break a law — they were kids.
So my hope and expectation is that, first of all, everybody understands I am determined and this administration is determined to get immigration reform done. It is the right thing to do. I think it involves securing our borders, and my administration has done more on border security than any administration in recent years. We have more of everything — ICE, Border Patrol, surveillance, you name it.
So we take border security seriously. And we take going after employers who are exploiting and using undocumented workers, we take that seriously. But we need to reform this immigration system so we are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants. And at minimum, we should be able to get the DREAM Act done.
And so I’m going to go back at it and I’m going to engage in Republicans who, I think, some of them, in their heart of hearts, know it’s the right thing to do, but they think the politics is tough for them.
Well, that may mean that we’ve got to change the politics. And I’ve got to spend some time talking to the American people, and others have to spend time talking to the American people, because I think that if the American people knew any of these kids — they probably do, they just may not know their status — they’d say, of course we want you. That’s who we are. That’s the better angels of our nature.
And so one thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck — I am persistent. I am persistent. If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it. And I believe strongly in this.
And I am happy to engage with the Republicans about — if they’ve got ideas about more on border security, I’m happy to have that conversation. And I think that it is absolutely appropriate for the American people to expect that we don’t have porous borders and anybody can come in here any time. That is entirely legitimate.
But I also think about those kids. And I want to do right by them, and I think the country is going to want to do right by them, as well.