The president also sought to rally support from the nation’s agricultural and high-tech sectors.
Farmers hire many low-skilled but hard-working illegal-immigrant migrants, saving them from having to invest in U.S.-made crop-picking machines.
Many companies in the high-tech sector want more leeway to import both cheap and skilled labor. Those workers, including experts from India and China, often work longer hours for less money than similarly trained U.S. engineers.
“I am a believer that if you’ve got a Ph.D. in physics, or computer science who wants to stay here … we shouldn’t make it harder for them to stay here,” Obama said.
Another influential group are younger illegal immigrants, dubbed “dreamers.” Their cause has been championed by progressives, and by many media outlets, who showcase their young, educated and union-backed advocates. (RELATED: Hispanic group demands national amnesty for 11 million illegaimmil)
Under a policy announced in the White House Rose Garden in June, the Obama administration is granting up to 1.25 million of these younger illegal immigrants two-year work permits, even though 23 million legal American residents are unemployed or underemployed.
“The first step that we’ve taken administratively dealing with the DREAM Act kids is very important as well. … They shouldn’t be under the cloud of deportation [and] we should give them every opportunity to earn their citizenship,” Obama said.
Over the next few years, the number of people eligible for that assistance will rise to 1.76 million, of which only 40,000 — or 4.5 percent — have graduated from two-year or four-year college, according to the Migration Policy Institute, which favors amnesty.
Eight percent are enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges, 22 percent have four years of high school and 20 percent dropped out of high school, according to that organization’s analysis. The remaining 45 percent are younger than 19.
Obama also seemed to praise some GOP leaders Wednesday, including Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for supporting amnesty in some form.
The election should cause “reflection on the part of Republicans about their position on immigration reform [and] I think we’re starting to see that already,” the president said.