Senator Obama to the National Council of La Raza:
That’s what’s at stake this November. This election is nothing less than a test of our allegiance to the American Dream. And it’s a test of our commitment to all those who are counting on us to keep that Dream alive – the people you serve every day.
The 12 million people in the shadows, the communities taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, the neighborhoods seeing rising tensions as citizens are pitted against new immigrants…they’re counting on us to stop the hateful rhetoric filling our airwaves – rhetoric that poisons our political discourse, degrades our democracy, and has no place in this great nation. They’re counting on us to rise above the fear and demagoguery, the pettiness and partisanship, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform.
There’s nothing wrong with requiring local, state, and federal governments to enforce existing immigration laws. While there will always be those who oppose all immigration due to their own racial prejudices, that doesn’t represent the majority of those who support border enforcement and the rule of law. Both McCain and Obama tend to blur the lines here by using the word immigrants instead of illegal immigrants. Those two terms are not the same. I’m all in favor of legal immigration. Most Americans support legal immigration. We oppose people breaking the law to enter this country. No apology should be necessary for that.
Now, I know Senator McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform – and I admired him for it. But when he was running for his party’s nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance, and said that he wouldn’t even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for a President who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular. And that’s the commitment I’m making to you. I marched with you in the streets of Chicago. I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform. And I will make it a top priority in my first year as President. Not just because we need to secure our borders and get control of who comes into our country. And not just because we have to crack down on employers abusing undocumented immigrants. But because we have to finally bring those 12 million people out of the shadows.
Yes, they broke the law. And we should not excuse that. We should require them to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for citizenship – behind those who came here legally. But we cannot – and should not – deport 12 million people. That would turn American into something we’re not; something we don’t want to be.
Both John McCain and Barack Obama are skilled at telling groups like La Raza what they want to hear about comprehensive immigration reform. McCain may have fooled Barack Obama when he said all that stuff about securing the borders first, but everyone who was paying attention knew McCain didn’t really change his position on this. You don’t co-sponsor a comprehensive immigration bill with Ted Kennedy, knowing the political fallout from that, without buying into the concept.
We can’t deport 12 million people. No one is saying that we can. But we should start by strengthening existing laws and tightening employer verification rules. Those are good first steps. Which of these men would support these provisions without adding the path to citizenship part to their new comprehensive immigration plan? My guess is that neither man would. If Senator Obama is serious about making enforcement of current laws part of his strategy to combat illegal immigration, then he might want to lay off some of his own derogatory rhetoric toward ICE — who he accused of “terrorizing communities” earlier in his remarks to La Raza — because he will need their help with that.