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Obama Stresses Need For Immigration Overhaul

President Obama on Thursday blamed immigration policy gridlock on "political posturing and special interest wrangling."

In a speech at American University, Obama took Republicans to task, in particular 11 GOP senators who backed recent efforts to improve the immigration system. He did not name names, but told his largely supportive audience that those lawmakers had succumbed to the "pressures of partisanship and election-year politics."

President Obama speaks about immigration policy Thursday at American University in Washington, D.C. (AP)
President Obama speaks about immigration policy Thursday at American University in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Seeking to rally new momentum to an issue that many advocates had hoped would be completed by this point, Obama laid out his rationale for a comprehensive approach to fixing what he and others, Republicans included, say is a broken immigration system.

He said the problem cannot be solved "only with fences and border patrols" but said the government should be held accountable for its responsibility to secure the border. Obama also said businesses should face consequences for knowingly employing illegal immigrants and that those who enter the country illegally should own up to their actions before they can begin the process of becoming citizens.

"The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done," the president said. "I'm ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem."

"Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes," he said. "That is the political and mathematical reality."

The speech follows up on back-to-back meetings Obama had with advocates and lawmakers at the White House this week.

Obama has said a comprehensive solution means "accountability for everybody" — from the U.S. government meeting its obligation to secure the border, to businesses facing the consequences of knowingly employing illegal immigrants, to those who enter the country illegally owning up to their actions before they can begin the process of becoming citizens.

Recent developments on immigration influenced his decision to give a speech, White House officials say, most notably Arizona's enactment of a tough anti-immigrant law and protests across the country against it.

"He thought this was a good time to talk plainly with the American people about his views on immigration," spokesman Bill Burton said.

Still, prospects appear bleak for getting a bill to Obama's desk before lawmakers leave town in the fall to campaign for re-election in November, and the president could be partly responsible for that. In April, he gave lawmakers some wiggle room when he said Congress may not have the appetite to deal with immigration this year following a tough legislative year in 2009.

The political reality is that to get a bill Obama needs Republican support, mostly in the Senate, where Democrats fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome GOP stalling tactics. Obama has mentioned that lack of cross-party support in his recent comments on immigration.

"I've got to have some support from Republicans," he said at a May news conference with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Obama has endorsed a proposal by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would require illegal immigrants, among other things, to admit they broke the law, pay fines and back taxes and perform community service to eventually obtain legal status. But Graham since has balked at acting on immigration this year, and no other Senate Republican has come forward.

Some Republicans want to act first on measures to tighten security along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Obama disagrees with that approach. His administration has acted to improve border security, including increasing personnel and equipment along the border.

Obama recently ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to boost security and asked Congress for an additional $600 million to support personnel and improve technology there. More than 500 of those Guard troops are to be sent to Arizona.

The Arizona law requires police enforcing another statute to clarify a person's immigration status if there's reason to believe the individual is in the U.S. illegally. Several states and communities are considering similar legislation, which Obama says is an understandable byproduct of the public's frustration over the federal government's inability to tighten the immigration system.

But Obama also has criticized the law as "misguided" and said it is potentially discriminatory. He has asked the Justice Department to review its legality and immigrant advocates are hoping the government will sue Arizona to block the law from taking effect later this month.

This program aired on July 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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