Yesterday, after meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to passing just and humane comprehensive immigration reform this year while speaking at a townhall meeting in Mesa County, California.
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Here's the full text of President Obama's Costa Mesa Town Hall meeting, from the LA Times blog:
THE PRESIDENT: I just met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today, which Congresswoman Sanchez is a member of -- (applause) -- to talk about this issue directly. As many of you know, during the campaign I was asked repeatedly about this, and I reiterated my belief that we have to have comprehensive immigration reform.
Now, I know this is an emotional issue, I know it's a controversial issue, I know that the people get real riled up politically about this, but -- but ultimately, here's what I believe: We are a nation of immigrants, number one.
Number two, we do have to have control of our borders. Number three, that people who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows, because if they stay in the shadows, in the underground economy, then they are oftentimes pitted against American workers.
Since they can't join a union, they can't complain about minimum wages, et cetera, they end up being abused, and that depresses the wages of everybody, all Americans. (Applause.)
So I don't think that we can do this piecemeal. I think what we have to do is to come together and say, we're going to strengthen our borders -- and I'm going to be going to Mexico, I'm going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how do we get control over the border that's become more violent because of the drug trade.
We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers. (Applause.) We have to make sure that there's a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work here or not. But we have to make sure that that verification system does not discriminate just because you've got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama. (Laughter.)
You've got to -- and then you've got to say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you've broken the law; you didn't come here the way you were supposed to. So this is not going to be a free ride. It's not going to be some instant amnesty. What's going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine. You are going to learn English. (Applause.)
You are going to -- you are going to go to the back of the line so that you don't get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally. (Applause.) But after you've done these things over a certain period of time you can earn your citizenship, so that it's not -- it's not something that is guaranteed or automatic. You've got to earn it. But over time you give people an opportunity.
Now, it only works though if you do all the pieces. I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can't have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it.
So we've got to deal with that at the same time as we deal in a humane fashion with folks who are putting down roots here, have become our neighbors, have become our friends, they may have children who are U.S. citizens. (Applause.) That's the kind of comprehensive approach that we have to take. All right. Okay. (Applause.)