President Barack Obama today scolded critics of his controversial immigration rewrite, accusing them of insincerity, fear-mongering, divisiveness and extremism.
“If you genuinely believe you need to fix our broken immigration system, there’s no good reason to stand in the way of this bill,” he said today at a high-profile speech in the White House.
The speech marked an end to his low-profile support for the Senate’s pending bill, which will bring in or legalize 30 million immigrants during the next 10 years, and allow employers to hire more than 10 million blue-collar, and university-level guest-workers.
Since July 2008, the number of Americans with jobs has dropped by 3 million to 144 million, while the working-age population has climbed 9 million to 245 million, including roughly 4 million working-age immigrants. Roughly 20 million Americans lack full-time jobs.
Senators vote today on whether to start debating the bill.
The critical vote will come in several weeks, when senators must vote on whether to end the debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called for passage by the July 4th recess.
Flanked by supporters from business, labor and advocacy groups, Obama slashed at the bill’s opponents.
“If you are serious about fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it [but] if you’re not serious about it, if you think a broken system is the best America can do, then it might make sense to block it,” he said.
Senators should not play “procedural games,” he said, referring to the Senate’s rules, which allow 41 determined Senators to block the bill.
He slammed as “extreme” the recent House vote to bar spending on Obama’s “deferred action” program, which awards illegal immigrants work-permits and residency rights. “We owe it to the ‘dreamers’ to do better,” he said, referring to the illegal immigrants brought to the country as minors by their parents.
Opponents will “try to gin up fear and spread division,” he said, adding that illegal immigrants “want to earn their way into the American story.”
Opponents of the bill include left-wing and conservative groups and legislators, as well as advocacy groups. They highlight current high unemployment rates, the estimated $6.3 trillion net cost of providing lifetime government aid to just 11 million low-skill immigrants, and the impact on future elections after many low-skilled, government-dependent immigrants become citizens.
Opponents also say the bill threatens the wages and employment of blue-collar workers and university graduates.
Recent polls show that major features of the bill — especially the guest-work provisions — face majority opposition.
Obama defended the bill by saying it will toughen border security.
However, the pending bill would roll back current but unenforced requirements to track the arrival and departure of all visitors.
Obama said that the bill would toughen enforcement of employers. It will “hold employers more accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers,” he said.
However, current law holds employers responsible even if they say they did not know their employees were not allowed to work.
Obama also touted requirements that illegal immigrants would have to accomplish before they could get green-cards.
“This bill would provide a pathway to earned citizenship… [but] that pathway is arduous,” he said. “You’ve got to pass background checks, learn English, pay taxes and go to the back of the line… it will take at last 13 years,” he said.
However, the bill only requires illegal immigrants to pay taxes that the IRS has already assessed against them. The bill does not require them to learn English — only to enroll in English classes — and the bill quickly provides legal residency and work-permits to all people who claim they were in the country illegally in 2012.
Obama also said that the bill is popular. “By the way, a majority of Americans support this idea.”