“The time has come for common-sense comprehensive immigration reform,” the president said to open his speech, sparking a chant of “Sí se puede!” in the crowd.
He noted that 1 in 4 new businesses were started by immigrants, as well 1 in 4 tech startups.
The president described the current population of 11 million undocumented immigrants as “living in the shadows.” This creates a shadow economy where both the businesses and workers who are trying to the right thing suffer. “We have to make sure every business and every worker is playing by the same rules,” he said.
Addressing concerns about securing the border, he said, “Today illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent.”
The crowd erupted when the president mentioned his policy of focusing deportation proceedings on criminals, while temporarily delaying any deportation of young people who would eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act.
The president predicted that as the bill gets closer to passing, emotions will rise.
“This has always been an issue that inflames passions,” he said, then reminded the crowd that nearly all Americans are the descendants of immigrants. “All those folks, before they were ‘us,’ they were ‘them.'”
“Remember,” he went on, “this is not just debate about policy. It’s about people.”
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka lauded the president’s speech.
“In a phrase, President Obama ‘gets it’ – he gets that a rising tide lifts all boats and that empowering immigrant workers is a win for all working people,” Trumka said in a statement. “The president clearly shares the AFL-CIO’s commitment to a viable pathway to citizenship, meaning that seemingly innocuous conditions cannot be allowed to get in the way of a roadmap for citizenship that encompasses the dreams of 11 million people.”
Photo credit: AP Photo/David Becker