Wednesday in Ottawa at the North American Leaders’ Summit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Pena Nieto, President Barack Obama attacked what he deemed “anti-immigration” demagoguery.
Obama said, “I think I’ve made it clear, set aside whatever the candidates are saying, that America is a nation of immigrants. That’s our strength. Unless you are one of the first Americans, unless you are a native American, somebody, somewhere in your past showed up from someplace else. And they didn’t always have papers. And the genius of America has been to define ourselves not by what we look like or what our last name is or what faith we practice, but our adherence to a common creed. A belief that all people are created equal. A belief in free speech and freedom of assembly and democracy and pluralism and tolerance and rule of law. And we have observed those ideals imperfectly at times — but in each successive generation, we’ve got a little bit better at it. We’ve come closer to our ideals. And the notion that somehow we’d stop now on what has been a tradition of attracting talent and strivers and dreamers from all over the world, that would rob us of the thing that is most special about America. And I don’t think it will happen.”
He continued, “Now people are genuinely concerned about immigration that is not orderly. People pouring across borders without having gone through some sort of process, it adds to people’s sense that things are out of control. And that’s why we’ve invested in securing our borders, and we’ve made unprecedented investments. It’s part of the reason why illegal immigration to the United States is actually at its lowest level since the 1970s. It’s why we so value the cooperation we’ve obtained from the Mexican government in making sure our borders work to facilitate legal trade and legal immigration and commerce, but discourages illegal immigration. It’s why I’m pushing very hard and will continue to push until I leave this office and expect the next president to push for a comprehensive immigration reform plan that can fix those aspects of the system that are broken so we remain a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And that’s ultimately, I think, where people in the United States will land.”
He added, “We’ve had times throughout our history where anti-immigration sentiment is exploited by demagogues. It was directed at the Irish. it was directed at Poles and Italians and you can go back and read what was said about those groups and it’s identical to what they’re saying about Mexicans or Guatemalans or Muslims or Asians. Same stuff. they’re different. They’re not going to fit. They don’t assimilate. They bring crime. Same arguments. You go back to the 1800s, the language is identical. But guess what? They kept coming, and they kept coming because America offers the best possibility for their children and grandchildren and even if they were initially discriminated against, they understood that our system will, over time, allow them to become part of this one American family. And so we should take some of this rhetoric seriously and answer it boldly and clearly, but you shouldn’t think that that is representative of how the American people think.”
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