At AU, Obama calls for comprehensive immigration reform
In his first visit to AU as president, Barack Obama laid out the framework for his idea of comprehensive immigration reform July 1 — including a pathway to citizenship as well as increased accountability — but did not announce any new policy initiatives.
About 250 invited guests filled the atrium of the new School of International Service building in its inaugural event to hear Obama’s nearly 40-minute-long speech. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, the Rev. Al Sharpton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus filled the first few rows of the atrium. AU officials, professors and a small group of student leaders were also in attendance.
“In sum, the system is broken,” Obama said. “And everybody knows it. Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special-interest wrangling — and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics.”
The president said he hopes Congress can pass an immigration reform package soon, but did not address whether he had the support to pass any legislation before the end of the year. The majority of Democrats and Americans want to move forward with reform, and it’s up to Republicans to make the next move and create bipartisan legislation, he said.
While he did not offer many specifics, Obama expressed support for the DREAM Act, a bill before Congress that would provide a pathway to permanent residency for illegal immigrants who graduate from a U.S. high school and show good character.
School of Public Affairs Dean William LeoGrande was in the audience and said he thought Obama gave a successful speech. Primarily, Obama was challenging the Republican Party to step up and support immigration reform efforts, LeoGrande said.
“I think the White House is signaling that it really wants to try and push ahead on this issue now and not wait until after the election or next year,” he said. “But he also was very clear that there has to be Republican counterparts who are willing to cooperate in this. Democrats by themselves don’t have the votes to do this.”
Nearly half of the Main Quad and portions of New Mexico and Nebraska Avenues were blocked. Since the speech was invitation-only, students filled Ward 2 to watch.
Rebecca Paley-Williams, a junior in SPA, watched the speech from Ward. She said she and a lot of the people with her at the watch party were annoyed the event was not open to students and the public.
“I felt like [Obama] was coming here — this is our campus,” she said. “They probably should have let us see the speech or [provide] some sort of benefit for being a student here.”
Sara Torneden, a sophomore in SIS, said that while she is disappointed more students were not let in to the event, she understands why the White House selected a smaller venue.
“[The building choice] is very representative of how [Obama] wanted it to come off,” Torneden said. “He didn’t want it to be in a huge arena with hundreds of thousands of people cheering and everything. He wanted people who were interested in pursuing this in higher education to hear this and take this and motivate them to learn more about it in their studies.”
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