This Is What President Obama Told Reporters About Immigration Today

Nov 5, 2014
7:03 PM

The following is a portion of the November 5, 2014 transcript provided by the White House tonight:


Q Thank you, Mr. President. In 2010, you called the result of the midterm election “a shellacking.” What do you call this? And can you give us an update on your feelings about the immigration executive order in the result — in the aftermath of this election? Does the election affect your plans to release it? Will it still — is it likely to come out before the lame duck session is over? And have you reduced its scope to just a couple million people?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said in my opening statement, there’s no doubt that Republicans had a good night. And what we’re going to make sure that we do is to reach out to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, who are now running both chambers in Congress, and find out what their agenda is. And my hope is, is that they’ve got some specific things they want to do that correspond with some things that we want to get done.

What’s most important to the American people right now, the resounding message not just of this election, but basically the last several is: Get stuff done. Don’t worry about the next election. Don’t worry about party affiliation. Do worry about our concerns. Worry about the fact that I’m a single mom, and at the end of the month it’s really hard for me to pay the bills, in part because I’ve got these huge child care costs.

Do worry about the fact that I’m a young person who’s qualified to go to college, but I’m really worried about taking $50,000 a year out in debt and I don’t know how I’d pay that back.

Do worry about the fact that I’m a construction worker who has been working all my life, and I know that there’s construction work that should be done, but right now, for some reason, projects are stalled.

If we’re thinking about those folks I think we’re, hopefully, going to be able to get some stuff done.

In terms of immigration, I have consistently said that it is my profound preference and interest to see Congress act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would strengthen our borders; would streamline our legal immigration system so that it works better and we’re attracting the best and the brightest from around the world; and that we give an opportunity for folks who’ve lived here, in many cases, for a very long time, may have kids who are U.S. citizens, but aren’t properly documented — give them a chance to pay their back taxes, get in the back of the line, but get through a process that allows them to get legal.

The Senate, on a bipartisan basis, passed a good bill. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a sound, smart, piece of legislation that really would greatly improve not just our immigration system but our economy, and would improve business conditions here in the United States — and make sure that American-born workers aren’t undercut by workers who are undocumented and aren’t always paid a fair wage and, as a consequence, employers who are breaking the rules are able to undercut folks who are doing the right thing.

So we got a bipartisan bill out of the Senate. I asked John Boehner at that point, can we pass this through the House? There’s a majority of votes in the House to get this passed. And Speaker Boehner I think was sincere about wanting to pass it, but had difficulty over the last year trying to get it done.

So when he finally told me he wasn’t going to call it up this year, what I indicated to him is I feel obliged to do everything I can lawfully with my executive authority to make sure that we don’t keep on making the system worse, but that whatever executive actions that I take will be replaced and supplanted by action by Congress. You send me a bill that I can sign, and those executive actions go away.

That’s a commitment I made not just to the American people — and to businesses and the evangelical community and the law enforcement folks and everybody who’s looked at this issue and thinks that we need immigration reform — that’s a commitment that I also made to John Boehner, that I would act in the absence of action by Congress.

So before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern. And at the same time, I’ll be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic leaders to find out how it is that they want to proceed. And if they want to get a bill done — whether it’s during the lame duck or next year — I’m eager to see what they have to offer.

But what I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.

Q How will you make sure that that executive action has teeth if Republicans try to block it by blocking funding? And can you give us a sense of whether or not you’re thinking about —

THE PRESIDENT: Jeff, I think if you want to get into the details of it, I suspect that when I announce that executive action, it will be rife with detail. (Laughter.) And I’m sure there will be a lot of follow-up questions.

Chris Jansing.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I want to follow up on a couple of things and start with immigration. And are you concerned that if you sign an executive order on immigration before the end of the year it will scuttle whatever chances there may be for there to be some sort of compromise on the issues that you talked about? And I wonder that, given this unhappy electorate, clearly, and they seem to be disappointed with both sides pretty much, why they punished the Democrats more than the Republicans by far.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said, when it comes to the political analysis, that’s your job. But what is also true is I am the President of the United States, and I think, understandably, people are going to ask for greater accountability and more responsibility from me than from anybody else in this town. Appropriately so, and I welcome that. And the commitment that I will make to the American people and the way I’ve tried to conduct myself throughout this presidency is that I’m going to wake up every single day doing my absolute best to deliver for them.

And there are areas where we’ve made real progress. I think economically, I can look back and there is no doubt that almost — on almost every measure, we are better off economically than we were when I took office. But what is also true is there are still a lot of folks out there who are anxious and are hurting and are having trouble making ends meet, or are worried about their children’s future. And it’s my job to give them some confidence that this town can work to respond to some of those worries that folks have.

And we haven’t done a good enough job convincing them of that And I understand that They’ve been watching Washington over the last two, four years. What they’ve seen is a lot of arguing and a lot of gridlock, but not a lot of concrete actions, at least legislatively, that have made a difference in their lives. And so we’ve got to make sure that we do a better job, and I’m committed to doing that.

On immigration, I know that concerns have been expressed that, well, if you do something through executive actions, even if it’s within your own authorities, that that will make it harder to pass immigration reform. I just have to remind everybody I’ve heard that argument now for a couple of years. This is an issue I actually wanted to get done in my first term, and we didn’t see legislative action. And in my second term, I made it my top legislative priority, and we got really good work done by a bipartisan group of senators, but it froze up in the House.

And I think that the best way if folks are serious about getting immigration reform done is going ahead and passing a bill and getting it to my desk. And then the executive actions that I take go away. They’re superseded by the law that has passed.

And I will engage any member of Congress who’s interested in this in how we can shape legislation that will be a significant improvement over the existing system. But what we can’t do is just keep on waiting. There is a cost to waiting. There’s a cost to our economy. It means that resources are misallocated.

When the issue of unaccompanied children cropped up during this summer, there was a lot of folks who perceived this as a major crisis in our immigration system. Now, the fact is, is that those numbers have now come down and they’re approximately where they were a year ago or two years ago or a year before that. But it did identify a real problem in a certain portion of the border where we got to get more resources.

But those resources may be misallocated, separating families right now that most of us, most Americans would say probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal in this country.

So where I’ve got executive authorities to do that, we should get started on that. But I want to emphasize once again, if, in fact, Republican leadership wants to see an immigration bill passed, they now have the capacity to pass it. And hopefully engaging with me and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, it’s a bill that I can sign because it addresses the real concerns that are out there. And the sooner they do it, from my perspective, the better.