President Barack Obama called on Congress Wednesday to quickly approve immigration reform legislation that will provide a “pathway for legal status” for undocumented immigrants in the US.
“We have to seize the moment,” said Obama during his first press conference since winning re-election, noting that the large turnout of Hispanics at the ballot box has motivated legislators to begin discussing immigration reform, and his staff is getting involved in those discussions.
Obama said he expects immigration reform will be taken up soon after his inauguration in January.
He said comprehensive immigration reform must address border security, include “serious penalties” for businesses that hire and “take advantage” of undocumented immigrants, and the legalization of those who have no criminal record and who meet other requirements, such as paying back taxes, learning English, and potentially paying fines, some of the same elements in the last immigration reform package that failed to gain passage.
The president said he feels the large turnout of Hispanic voters last week should motivate Republicans who have largely opposed immigration reform for the last five years to rethink their positions on the issue.
“I think we’re starting to see that already. I think that’s a positive sign,” Obama said. “This has not historically been a partisan issue.”
“I am very confident we can get immigration reform done,” he said.
Obama expressed support for a “pathway to legal status” for the undocumented who are “simply here to work,” but stopped short of including a pathway to citizenship in an immigration reform bill.
He did, however, say he wants to see his deferred action policy, which grants so-called DREAMERS —young people “who through no fault of their own” were brought to the country by their parents illegally to the U.S., and who go to school or serve in the military — a reprieve from deportation to be made into law, and to give these young people a pathway to become citizens.
According to some national exit polls, Latino voters backed Obama 71-27 percent, higher than in any time since 1996. And, for the first time ever, they represented 10 percent of all voters across the country, helping Obama win in key battleground states, like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.
Nearly three-quarters of all Latino voters, in exit polls, said they support giving employed undocumented immigrants legal status. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, a majority of Americans said they back a path to legal status.