President Barack Obama will give a speech Tuesday on immigration reform in Las Vegas, according to published reports.
We decided to look into Obama’s past statements and current policy to preview the speech. Most specifically, we are comparing the White House’ current immigration guide and Obama’s major policy address in 2011 at El Paso on the issue.
He has remained remarkably consistent since then on how he wants to address the issue. Here are the points we expect:
1) Secure the Borders / The Border is Secure
Every time Obama speaks about immigration, he brings up enforcement. Oftentimes, it’s the first point he raises. That’s consistent on the White House website, where the administration makes the following claims:
“The President takes seriously his responsibility to enforce our immigration laws. Over the last three years, the Obama Administration has dedicated unprecedented resources to secure our borders, taken important steps to make our interior and worksite enforcement smarter and more effective, and made improvements to the legal immigration system.”
A part of that is strategic: Obama wants to be able to claim that he’s done a better job enforcing our immigration laws — by deporting illegal immigrants and securing the border wall — so as to avoid being called soft on immigration.
And even though that doesn’t always work to assuage his political rivals — Obama famously chided disgruntled Republicans in 2011, saying that they won’t be happy unless the United States builds a moat with alligators in it — Obama is sure to call it in as a bargaining chit.
Obama is frequently criticized on both sides of the aisle for his enforcement record.
Liberals decry his deportation policy for tearing families apart while conservatives say he isn’t doing enough to secure the border.
On that, liberals have a point: Obama has deported 1.5 million people since taking office, a record, according to NPR.
For many Republicans, it’s “enforcement first, path to citizenship later” (or never).
Obama can say he’s done his part.
2) Hold Businesses Accountable
Obama has, in the past, called for holding businesses responsible for “exploiting” undocumented workers.
In a May 2011 speech in El Paso, Obama said the following:
“[B]ecause undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses that skirt taxes, pay workers less than the minimum wage, or cut corners with health and safety. This puts companies who follow those rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime or just a safe place to work, at an unfair disadvantage.”
Couple that with this statement on his website — “we must give employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally” — and it’s fair to assume that Obama will talk about the private sector’s role in encouraging and exploiting immigrant labor.
3) Accountability for the Undocumented
Obama has made accountability a hallmark of his proposals, and it stretches to immigrants, too.
In past speeches, Obama has said that those who have immigrated to this country illegally must “admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English.”
Once that is done, Obama has said, they can “get in line” on a path to citizenship.
Different people will read that differently, of course.
For some, “learn English” is a racist dog whistle phrase. But the key is the pathway to citizenship.
4) Make it easier to immigrate here legally
One of the key concepts Obama has pushed is that it’s too difficult to immigrate here legally.
That, he and experts have suggested, is why there’s so much illegal immigration.
Here are the President’s words on modernizing the nation’s immigration laws, from the White House website:
“Our immigration laws should continue to reunify families and encourage individuals we train in our world-class institutions to stay and develop new technologies and industries in the United States rather than abroad.
The law should stop punishing innocent young people whose parents brought them here illegally and give those young men and women a chance to stay in this country if they serve in the military or pursue higher education. A smart 21st century system should also provide farmers a legal way to hire the workers they rely on year after year, and it should improve procedures for employers who seek to hire foreign workers for jobs if U.S. workers are not available.”
When the President speaks Tuesday, we expect those four points to be front and center.
In fact, we expect him to delineate them explicitly, which would be consistent with how he’s addressed the topic over the past few years.
We welcome your input on what you think Obama might say Tuesday.