Obama Says America Must 'Seize the Moment" and Overhaul Immigration System

President Barack Obama holds first White House news conference in more than 8 months.


In his first press conference since winning re-election, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he expects that a comprehensive immigration reform bill will be introduced “very soon” after his inauguration.

Recognizing the key role Latinos played in his re-election and the increasing growth of the Hispanic community in the U.S., Obama  said any legislation should make permanent the administrative changes he made earlier this year that allow some young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country under the Deferred Action policy. The initiative by the Obama administration gives a two-year reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought o the country as minors.

“This is the fastest-growing group in the country,” Obama said. “You’re starting to see a sense of empowerment and civic participation that I think is going to be powerful and good for the country.”

There should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity are here simply to work.

- U.S. President Barack Obama

“It is why I am very confident we can get immigration reform done,” he added.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised immigration reform, but besides announcing the Deferred Action initiative in June his administration made little headway on the issue. His inaction on immigration reform was played up heavily by presidential candidate Mitt Romney during this year’s campaign season. But Romney’s hard-line stance toward illegal immigration during the GOP primaries hindered his efforts to gain favor among Latinos and helped Obama win 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared with Romney’s 29 percent, according to a Fox News poll.

Claiming he planned to “seize the moment,” Obama said that a bipartisan bill needs to provide a pathway to legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants residing in the country who have no criminal record.

“There should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work,” Obama said. “It’s important for them to pay back taxes, it’s important for them to learn English, it’s important for them to potentially pay a fine, but to give them an avenue where they can resolve their legal status here in this country is very important. “

Calling immigration a non-partisan issue, Obama said that with their recent defeat in the race for the White House, Republicans are starting to reflect on the role Latinos played in the election and what that that means in terms of the future of immigration reform.

“This has not historically been a [partisan] issue,” Obama said. “We’ve had President (George W.) Bush and (Arizona Senator) John McCain and others who have supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past, so we need to seize the moment. “

Despite the hard-line stance taken by the GOP during the primaries, and to a lesser extent during the presidential campaign, Bush’s administration took a relatively softer approach to undocumented immigrants.

"The universe of opportunities to exercise prosecutorial discretion is large," Bush’s immigration adviser William Howard wrote in a 2005 memo, according to Mother Jones. Howard added that the government should permit undocumented immigrants to stay in the country when "compelling reasons exist," such as the person who has a relative in the U.S. Armed Forces or for "sympathetic humanitarian factors."

Later in the press conference, Obama reaffirmed his stance that young people brought to the U.S. as children should be allowed to remain in the country.

“Obviously making sure that we put into law the first step we’ve taken administratively dealing with the DREAM Act kids is very important as well,” he said. “One thing that I’m very clear about is that young people who are brought here through no fault of their own, who have gone to school here, pledge allegiance to our flag, want to serve in our military, want to go to school and contribute to our society, that they shouldn’t be under the cloud of deportation.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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