Obama Offers Undocumented Immigrants ‘Deal’ to Avoid Deportation

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, November 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)
Photo: Pool/2014 Getty Images

The major broadcast networks probably should have aired President Obama’s immigration address on Thursday night, because he just delivered one of the strongest and most passionate speeches he’s made in years. Obama didn’t go very deep on the details of his executive action on immigration, focusing instead on the “deal” he’s offering to millions of undocumented immigrants living in this country. “If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes — you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation,” he said. “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Obama began by describing the United States’ openness to immigrants as a tradition that has kept the nation “youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial.” He quickly moved on to assailing Congress for failing to fix a system that everyone knows has been broken for decades, pointing to the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate but not the House. “Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law,” he said. “But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.”

He said he still wants to get that kind of “common-sense law” passed, but rather than waiting for Congress, he’s taking “actions I have the legal authority to take as president — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

After briefly noting that his executive actions will add resources for securing the border and make it easier for “high-skilled” workers to immigrate, Obama moved on to the far more controversial issue: what to do with the millions of undocumented workers already living in the country. “Tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic,” he said, so the U.S. will continue to focus on deporting people who actually pose a threat to our security. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

However, his reasons for taking executive action weren’t just practical. While he acknowledged that Americans don’t want to see anyone cheat their way into citizenship, particularly if their ancestors worked hard to get here, he said kicking out every undocumented immigrant just isn’t who we are as Americans:

After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours. As my predecessor President Bush once put it: “They are a part of American life.”

It probably wasn’t an accident that the only two things quoted in the speech were President Bush and the Bible. “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too,” Obama said.

Addressing his critics, Obama said the deal does not apply to recent immigrants or those who may come in the future — all it means is we’re not deporting certain people who are already here. He insisted that isn’t amnesty. “Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time,” he said. “That’s the real amnesty — leaving this broken system the way it is.”