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Mr. President: We Can Handle (And Want) The Truth About Why Immigration Reform Didn’t Happen

by Frank Sharry on 09/14/2012 at 2:42pm

President Obama, next week, you and Mitt Romney will sit down for interviews with Univision’s Jorge Ramos. No doubt, immigration will be a topic during both discussions. We’d like to encourage you to have a better answer than the one you gave to Agencia EFE yesterday, as reported by FOX News Latino:

When asked if he regretted not having been able to deliver on immigration reform, the president responded: “No, because what a president does, or what a candidate for president does is you lay out an agenda of where you want to take your country, a vision for how we would strengthen the country and, in my case, my vision has always been how do we create a strong middle class, ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”

No? Geez. See, a lot of people in this country feel pretty bad that you didn’t deliver on reform. Here’s more from your interview:

During the interview, which the president granted after holding a campaign rally in Golden, Colorado, he also said that “if you look at the promises that I made back in 2008, we have achieved many of them.”

“(We) ended the war in Iraq, saved an auto industry on the brink of extinction, passed comprehensive health care reform which will provide millions … more people (with) access to health insurance, including nine million Latinos who work so hard and have difficulty getting health insurance on the job, reforming our student loans program so that millions … more young people are able to get the support that they need.”

He acknowledged that “there are some things, like comprehensive immigration reform, that we have not got done yet. But in 2008 I didn’t promise that I would have everything completed by the end of the first term. I said that we would begin work on all these things.”

Mr. President, please don’t pretend there wasn’t a strong promise from you to fight for immigration reform in that first year. Here’s what you said to Jorge Ramos in 2008:

I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.

And, we haven’t forgotten what you said to the National Conference of La Raza in July of 2008:

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for a President who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular.  And that’s the commitment I’m making to you.  I marched with you in the streets of Chicago.  I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform.

And I will make it a top priority in my first year as President.  Not just because we need to secure our borders and get control of who comes into our country.  And not just because we have to crack down on employers abusing undocumented immigrants.  But because we have to finally bring those 12 million people out of the shadows.

Mr. President, please don’t act like we were all wrong to expect immigration reform to be a higher priority in your first four years.  The good news is, we have seen some real leadership on immigration from you in the past year, especially with your recent decision to put an end to deportations of DREAMers. That has truly been transformative.

But when asked if you kept your promise or not?  We think it’s time for some straight talk – from you to the millions who know you didn’t keep your promise and get angry when you deny it.

Here’s how you might come clean and have an honest conversation with the pro-immigration reform community – most of whom want to work with you to pass immigration reform in your second term, but don’t appreciate the revisionist history regarding your first term promise on comprehensive immigration reform:

I made a promise but I was unable to keep it for the following reasons: After the Recovery Act was passed early in my presidency, I made health care my top legislative priority.  None of us expected it to be so hard, take so long or run into such unanimous Republican opposition.  By the time health care passed – in March of 2010, more than a year after I took office – my political capital was greatly reduced and Republicans remained in full-throated opposition to anything that had my name on it.

With respect to comprehensive immigration reform, we knew there were a handful of centrist Democrats in the Senate who would oppose comprehensive reform, making it impossible to get to 60 votes without Republican partners.  So, I worked with Senate Democrats on a strategy designed to attract Republican support in the Senate.  In fact, all I asked for was two Republican supporters.  In the spring and summer of 2010 I made calls, I met with Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham, Senate Democrats released a blueprint to pressure Republicans, and I made a major speech – all in an effort to get some Republicans to the table.  Despite our efforts, we ended up with zero Republican supporters.  Zero.

With the 2010 election upon us and no hope for comprehensive reform, we pivoted to the DREAM Act.  We passed it in the House in December 2010, and came heartbreakingly close in the Senate. Despite 55 votes in favor of DREAM in the Senate, we couldn’t reach the needed 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster and the bill failed from becoming law.  But we didn’t stop fighting just because Republicans blocked us. When Arizona passed a law targeting Latinos, we challenged it in court.  When it became clear that our efforts to enforce a broken immigration system were resulting in too many low priority cases being detained and deported, we moved to make significant changes: We made criminals a priority; we helped families stay together with a new waiver policy; and we announced a new Deferred Action policy that will help hundreds of thousands of young people who are American in all but paperwork.

I understand that many are still disappointed that we were not able to keep our promise on comprehensive immigration reform in the first term, but I still view such reform as essential and I will fight for it so as long as I’m President.  Going forward, the choice could not be clearer.  If you want a President who supports comprehensive reform, who will fight for the DREAM Act, who will protect the young people coming forward for work permits, and who will make our enforcement system focus on the worst of the worst and not ordinary hardworking people with deep roots in the country, then vote for me.  If you want a President who opposes comprehensive reform, who supports self-deportation, who promises to veto the DREAM Act, who won’t say what he’ll do with the young people coming forward under my policy, and who wants Arizona’s approach to immigration to be the model for the nation, then vote for Mitt Romney.

As you get ready for your interview with Jorge Ramos next week, we hope you’ll take our suggestions.  We can handle the truth.  We want the truth.  It won’t hurt.  It will heal wounds.

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