Obama: Time to “seize the moment” on immigration reform

“I’m very confident we can get immigration reform done.” 

These were President’s Obama‘s words when Telemundo’s Lori Montenegro asked the President this afternoon about the prospects for immigration reform during his first comprehensive press conference following the election.  President Obama said he had predicted before the election that Latinos would support his re-election, in part due to immigration, and that this would result in “reflection” on the part of Republicans.

“We are seeing that already,” says Obama, saying he was encouraged by Republican comments on the issue, and adding that immigration reform has been a bipartisan issue in the past. “Bush supported it,” he said.

The President cited four components to reform: securing borders, making sure companies hire legal workers, ensuring a pathway for undocumented citizens to become legal, (he mentioned paying taxes and learning English) and supporting the Dream Act.  The President said conversations are happening now.

On Dreamers, President Obama said he wanted to be clear “these young people who are brought here through no fault of their own and want to go to school should not be under a cloud of deportation.”

The President ended his comments by saying, “We can get it done.”

Obama also spoke about the Latino vote.  “I am encouraged to see a significant increase in Latino turnout,” he said.  The President added that Latinos have historically voted in lower rates, “but that is beginning to change.” Obama said the Hispanics‘ sense of empowerment and civic participation is powerful and good for the country.

It is this growing Latino political “relevance,” says National Immigration Law Center’s Mariaelena Hincapié, that makes her hopeful that Democrats as well as Republicans will come to the table.  “Republicans, especially, have to come to the table, but not with the same strategy as before,” says Hincapié.  “This is not about militarizing the border; that has already been done; what we haven’t seen is the piece that will give people a road to citizenship,” she adds.

Hincapié says there is another reason President Obama should pursue immigration reform.  “As the first African American President, it’s up to us to ensure his legacy is not that he has deported the most brown people, but that he has created a roadmap to first-class citizenship,” Hincapié says.  “We’re very hopeful we think it’s not a matter of if, but when.”

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