As the nation’s capital is packed with cops marking National Police Week, President Obama sat down with law enforcement leaders to make a case for immigration reform.
About 40 officers representing the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, National Sheriffs Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and Police Executive Research Association, along with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, got about 10 minutes of Obama’s time at the Eisenhower Office Building at noontime.
“The immigration system that we have right now makes it harder, not easier, for law enforcement agencies to do their jobs. It makes it harder for law enforcement to know when dangerous people cross our borders. It makes it harder for business owners who play by the rules to compete when they’re undercut by those who would exploit workers in a shadow economy. And it makes it harder for law enforcement to do their jobs when large segments of the community are afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses because they fear the consequences for themselves or their families,” Obama said.
“This system is not fair. It’s not fair to workers; it’s not fair to businesses who are trying to do the right thing; it’s not fair to law enforcement agencies that are already stretched thin.”
Obama told the cops that his administration put personnel “arrayed at the border… well beyond anything that we saw five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago.”
“But what this reform package would also do is create a firm but fair pathway to earned citizenship for those who live in the shadows — and as a consequence, would give law enforcement a better idea of who’s in the country. It would also help build trust between local communities and law enforcement and immigrant communities. It would undermine criminal enterprises that prey on undocumented immigrants. And it would allow law enforcement to focus on its primary mission, which is keeping our communities safe,” he said.
The president blamed “a handful of House Republicans right now who are blocking going ahead and letting legislation get to the floor.”
“To their credit, I think Speaker Boehner and some of the other leaders there do believe that immigration reform is the right thing, but they’ve got to have a political space that allows them to go ahead and get it through their caucus and get it done. I’ve said to them, if they’ve got ideas I’m happy to talk to them. We’re not hell-bent on making sure that every letter of what’s in the Senate bill is exactly what ultimately lands on my desk for signature, but there are some core principles that we’ve got to get done,” he continued.
One of those musts: “We’ve got to make sure that there’s a way for people to earn some pathway to citizenship.”
“And keep in mind, some of these statistics you may have already heard — it’s estimated that over 80 percent of the folks who are here on an undocumented basis have been here 10 years or longer. These are folks who are woven into the fabrics of our communities. Their kids are going to school with our kids. Most of them are not making trouble; most of them are not causing crimes. And yet, we put them in this tenuous position and it creates a situation in which your personnel, who have got to go after gang-bangers and need to be going after violent criminals and deal with the whole range of challenges, and who have to cooperate with DHS around our counterterrorism activities — you’ve got to spend time dealing with somebody who is not causing any other trouble other than the fact that they were trying to make a living for their families. That’s just not a good use of our resources. It’s not smart. It doesn’t make sense.”
Obama said he’s trying to get “unexpected voices” to push for an immigration bill, like the cops and the evangelical Christian community, which “has shown itself to be foursquare behind immigration reform.”
“The closer we get to the midterm elections the harder it is to get things done around here. Now, I know it’s hard to believe that things could get harder that this place could get a little more dysfunctional. But it’s just very hard right before an election. So we’ve got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives. And your voices are going to be absolutely critical to that effort,” he said.
At the end of his speech, the president squeezed in a quick thank-you to law enforcement for their “heroic work.”