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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

LIVEBLOGGING THE OBAMA IMMIGRATION ADDRESS

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The President is about to address an audience at American University in Washington on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. I'm watching the speech here at the American Immigration Lawyers Association Annual meeting and there is a lot of interest in the President's remarks.

11:15 - Obama Administration refuses to ignore challenges despite difficulties - education, health care, banking, energy.

Immigration now source of "fresh contention" after Arizona law. People are frustrated with system that is "fundamentally broken". Tensions are not new. We've always been a welcoming nation of immigrants. He's now reciting a list of major immigrant contributions of the past and today. Immigration has made America the engine of the global economy and the beacon of hope for people around the world. We reap incredible economic rewards because we are a magnet for immigrants. The diversity of our country is a powerful advantage in our efforts to compete globally.

But ... each new wave of immigrants has had a negative reaction. Alien and Sedition Act, discrimination against Irish and Eastern European immigrants, Chinese Exclusion Act...Immigration policy has always been contentious as today but it's made worse by a Congress that won't act.

Problems.

Border has been relatively porous and many overstay their visas and now there are 11 million illegally present immigrants. Living in shadows means exploitation and companies that don't follow the rules have an unfair advantage. Police can't catch bad guys because people are afraid to cooperate. And those going through the system legally should not have to suffer.

Spouses are separated. Fees are too high. Laws discourage graduates of US institutions from staying here. We're training our competition.

Everyone knows the system is broken, but it's bad politics to tackle the issue in Congress.

Past bipartisan efforts have fallen to the wayside and GOP members have backed off working with Democrats. And states like Arizona are taking matters into their own hands.

Arizona's law puts huge pressures on law enforcement and state and local budgets. The law also creates conditions for racial profiling. We also face a patchwork of local immigration rules when uniform standards are needed.

We need to be honest about the problem and get past the false debates that divide. For example, many pro-immigrant folks think we should just grant legal status or ignore laws until we get reform. Such an approach could lead to more illegal immigration and is unfair to those waiting in line to come. The eleven million who broke the laws should be accountable.

Most Americans are skeptical about a blanket amnesty, but also know mass deportation is bad policy.

11:30 - Now he's talking about illegal kids of immigrants  and agricultural workers. We need a commonsense approach reflecting our heritage and values. Government has a responsibility to secure our borders. That's why Napolitano has been ordered to crack down on enforcement now. We have more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in history.

Crime on border is down and illegal crossings are down considerably. Southern border more secure than at any time in the past two decades.

Some argue we can't move forward until we have fully sealed our borders. But our borders are too vast to solve only with fences and the Border Patrol. We need to focus on forcing businesses to comply. E-Verify is a start.

Need to demand responsibility from people here illegally. Must admit they broke the law, register, pay a fine and learn English. Need to create a pathway to legal status that is fair, reflects our values and works.

11:37 - Now he's talking about fixing legal immigration. Background checks are much faster. Safety in detention system has improved. But more needs to be done. Companies need a legal way to hire the workers they rely on. Need to stop punishing kids for the actions of their parents.

Will we have the courage and the political will to pass reform legislation? Going through various Administration efforts to get the process going. Talking about the parade of meetings.

Obama is ready to move forward along with majority of Democrats. Majority of Americans ready to move forward. But without bipartisan support, we can't solve this problem.

This is an emotional question and lends itself to demagoguery. But we need to pass reform.

Reminding people about Emma Lazarus, a young immigrant poet in the late 19th century who wrote the words on the Statue of Liberty welcoming the downtrodden immigrant.

And he ends.

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