Obama gives immigration speech and debate heats up in region

In Las Vegas this afternoon, President Obama also spoke to an audience around the country, outlining his plans to change America’s immigration laws.

In a conference room lined with shelves of law books, staff of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in Philadelphia sat around a laptop and speakers to watch a web stream of the speech.

They listened with interest as Obama said “we have to deal with the 11 million individuals who are here illegally.”

“We all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship,” he said. “But for comprehensive immigration reform to work it must be clear from the outset that there is a path to citizenship.”

The policies the president outlined didn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the room. Vleidmy Velarde, the Latino outreach coordinator said new momentum has encouraged her clients.

“It’s a hope that they had, and they feel it’s getting closer to becoming a reality,” said Velarde. “So they’re very happy and we’re very excited for them.”

Strong Hispanic turnout in the 2012 election gave new life and perhaps even bipartisan support to comprehensive changes to immigration policy.

Obama’s proposal comes on the heels of plan presented by eight Senators, including Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).

Menendez presented an economic case for a plan that would give farmers in New Jersey access to agricultural workers and Silicon Valley access to engineers. 

“Even in this tight job market, we still see many sectors of our economy that go begging for people to do the work, because it’s not the most glamourous work,” said Menendez.

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) argued that a path to citizenship, which he calls amnesty, would mean a net economic loss. 

“Those costs will come from Medicare, Social Security, unemployment compensation, food stamps and other welfare programs,” said Barletta. “So at a time when we’re trying to get our fiscal house in order and we’re trying to balance the budget in ten years, this will make it basically impossible.”

Any deal is still months and hundreds of pages of legislation away.  And, as the President said, the closer the country comes, the more emotional the debate will get.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.