Obama calls for immigration system reform

Barack Obama: "We have strengthened border security beyond what many people believed was possible"

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President Barack Obama has called for broad reform of the US immigration system, while highlighting steps he has taken to strengthen border security.

In Texas, Mr Obama backed a path to legal status for illegal immigrants, as well as crackdowns on employers who hire illegal workers.

He called on Congress to reject "the usual Washington games" and enact a comprehensive overhaul.

An estimated 11m illegal immigrants, most of them Hispanic, live in the US.

In El Paso, a Texas border city, Mr Obama said he had satisfied calls from conservatives to tighten security at the border and to increase deportations of illegal immigrants.

He called on Congress to reform the immigration system in a manner that would encourage skilled and motivated immigrants to participate in American society while ending what he called an underground economy that preys on low-wage illegal immigrants.

Analysis

Once again, the president is making the case for reform of a system he calls broken. At a time when everyone is focused on the economy, Mr Obama said immigration reform was an economic imperative.

When it came to reform might look like, Mr Obama didn't appear to have anything new to say, but he said there was a growing coalition of politicians, police chiefs, businessmen and religious leaders across the country who now agree on the need for change.

It's very unlikely to result in new legislation this side of next year's presidential election - there just isn't the political appetite - but Mr Obama wants to reassure disillusioned Hispanic voters, who want reform, that they shouldn't abandon him

"We need to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, that demands everyone take responsibility," he said.

Immigration reform is of particular importance to the growing Hispanic electorate, which is Democratic-leaning and whose continued support Mr Obama will need in his 2012 re-election bid.

Ahead of Mr Obama's speech, White House aides stressed Mr Obama remained committed to reform, even though Republicans derailed overhaul efforts in 2006, 2007 and 2010.

In Texas, Mr Obama mocked Republican opponents on the issue.

"We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement," Mr Obama said.

"But even though we've answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time... Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat."

Opponents, mostly conservatives, have criticised proposals as an unacceptable "amnesty" for people who have broken the law - even though one major proposal backed by Democrats would have applied only to those who came to the US as children.

State crackdowns

Illegal immigrants in the US

  • 11m in the US in 2010, down from a peak of 12m in 2007
  • 393,000 deported in 2009, up from 183,000 a decade earlier
  • About 76% are Hispanic
  • Top places of origin are Mexico (59%), Asia (11%) Central America (11%) and South America (7%)
  • 73% of children of illegal immigrants are US citizens

Source: Pew Hispanic Center estimates, Department of Homeland Security

While Washington DC has been unable to achieve federal immigration reform, three states have sought to take action themselves.

Arizona, Georgia and Utah have passed measures giving police the power to demand documentation from people they suspect of being illegal immigrants who have been detained on other charges.

Arizona's law has been put on hold by the federal courts.

Meanwhile, a judge in Utah blocked the state's new immigration law on Friday, just hours after it went into effect.

District Judge Clark Waddoups issued his ruling in Salt Lake City, citing its similarity to Arizona's law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and National Immigration Law Center had sued to stop the law in Utah, saying it was modelled after the Arizona and that its implementation could lead to racial profiling.

In 2008, 67% of Hispanics voted for Mr Obama, compared with 31% for Republican John McCain, exit polls showed.

The Hispanic vote pushed Mr Obama over the margin of victory in four states won by President George Bush in 2004, some analysts calculate.

The Republican Party lost significant support among Hispanic voters following the 2004 election, in which Mr Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote, in part because of the party's hard line on illegal immigration, analysts say.

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