In Jamaica, Obama Tries To Explain Why Legal Immigrants Have To Wait In Line

President Barack Obama , accompanied by Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, signs the guest book prior to their bilateral meeting at the Jamaica House, April 9, 2015, in Kingston, Jamaica.
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Obama found himself in the awkward position of trying to explain why legal immigrants had to wait in line to enter the United States, while he thinks illegal immigrants should receive special consideration.

During a town hall in Jamaica, one young woman asked why families seeking to enter the United States legally were forced to wait seven to ten years.

“I’d love to hear you talk some more about your policy regarding shortening that timeline and making it less onerous on the applicants,” she said.

Obama reminded her that the American immigration system was “broken” and needed to be fixed, but he focused on illegal immigrants.

“Part of it is dealing with those who are undocumented but who have been living there a long time, are part of the community, providing them with a pathway in which they have to earn a legal status, but recognizing that they’re there and we’re not going to be separating out families,” he said.

Obama suggested that Americans had a moral obligation to offer illegal immigrants a path to legal status without forcing them to return to their home countries.

“That’s not who we are. That’s not true to our values. And ultimately, it’s not good for our economy,” he said.

Returning to the discussion about legal immigration, Obama admitted that many illegal immigrants were breaking the law because the legal process was too difficult.

“Now, I have to be honest. A lot of people want to come to America. So unless we just had no borders, there’s always going to be a wait,” he said, pointing to background checks and prioritization.

But Obama offered no suggestions on how to simplify the legal system.

“I mean, there have to be ways in which we can make the system clearer and less burdensome,” he said, pointing to the “Gang of Eight” bill passed in the Senate. “Some of those changes we wanted to make were in the legislation that was proposed and passed the United States Senate.”

Obama concluded by optimistically suggesting that there was still a chance at getting comprehensive immigration reform done before the end of his presidency.

“I think there is still the opportunity to get that done before my presidency is over, but it does require the Republican Party I think to engage with me in a more serious effort, and to put aside the politics,” he said.


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