Washington (CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama told a Hispanic civil rights group on Monday that the idea of reforming the U.S. immigration system on his own “is very tempting,” but under the U.S. Constitution, he is unable to do so without Congress.
“I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books, but that doesn't mean I don't know very well the real pain and heartbreak that deportations cause,” Obama told the National Council of La Raza at the group’s annual meeting in Washington. “I share your concerns and I understand them. And I promise you, we are responding to your concerns and working every day to make sure we are enforcing flawed laws in the most humane and best possible way.
“Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own -- and believe me, right now, dealing with Congress--”
The audience interrupted him with chants of “Yes you can! Yes you can!”
“Believe me -- believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting,” Obama responded. “I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that's not how -- that's not how our system works.”
“That’s not how our democracy functions,” he continued. “That's not how our Constitution is written.”
To some critics, it appears that the Obama administration is taking immigration matters into its own hands.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security, in a June 17 memo directed federal authorities to use "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding which illegal aliens to detain and deport, citing limited resources as the reason.
The intention is to kick out the worst offenders and release the all the others – specifically victims of domestic violence and other crimes; witnesses to crimes; or people who are charged with minor traffic violations.
Obama told the La Raza crowd that fixing the immigration system is “unfinished business” for his administration, and he promised to work tirelessly to improve it, although the White House – aside from floating ideas in speeches -- has not put forward its own immigration reform plan.
The president also said he supports the DREAM Act, introduced by congressional Democrats.
The DREAM Act, which Congress rejected last December, would provide a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and who have been here for five years, graduated high school or gained a similar certification, and who join the military or attend college.
Immigration ‘revitalizing’ America
Obama said reforming the broken U.S. immigration system is not “just the moral thing to do,” it is also “an economic imperative.”
“In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America -- companies like Google and Intel -- were founded by immigrants,” Obama said. “One in six new small business owners are immigrants. These are job creators who came here to seek opportunity and now seek to share opportunity.”
Obama said immigration is revitalizing urban areas all across the country, where communities have been “hollowed out” by aging populations or the closure of manufacturing plants.
“Suddenly you see an influx of immigration, and you see streets that were full of boarded-up buildings, suddenly they're vibrant with life once again, and it’s immigrant populations who are providing that energy and that drive.”
Obama also told the group that the current immigration system in this country punishes those who abide by the rules and “tolerates” those who break the rules: “We have a system that separates families, and punishes innocent young people for their parents’ actions by denying them the chance to earn an education or contribute to our economy or serve in our military. These are the laws on the books.”
The president pointed out that the same Republicans who supported the DREAM Act in the past are now walking away from it because “the political winds have changed. That’s left states to come up with patchwork versions of reform that don’t solve the problem. You and I know that's not the right way to go. We can’t have 50 immigration laws across the country,” he said.
“So, yes, feel free to keep the heat on me and keep the heat on Democrats, but here’s the only thing you should know: The Democrats and your president are with you. Don't get confused about that. Remember who it is that we need to move in order to actually change the laws.”
The president called on La Raza to build “a movement for change outside of Washington,” a movement that “bridges party lines, that unites business and labor and faith communities and law enforcement communities, and all who know that America cannot continue operating with a broken immigration system.”