Barack Obama defends immigration plan at Las Vegas rally

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22 NOV 2014: Barack Obama defended his sweeping immigration reform on Friday, at a rally in Las Vegas designed to mobilise support for his decision to shield almost five million people from deportation.

The president told a rapturous, mostly latino crowd the executive orderhe announced on Thursday would protect hardworking parents who were living in the US illegally.

“We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers. We welcome them as fellow children of god,” he told a cheering crowd of about 1,600 people at the Del Sol high school.

The executive action was a lawful and common sense response to congressional deadlock over immigration, Obama said. “The bottom line is mass amnesty would be unfair, but mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our contrary’s character. What we are offering is accountability.”

The president chose the venue because it was where, in 2013 and after winning a second term, he promised bold action, only to see House Republicans kill an immigration bill which passed in the Senate. “Time has been wasted, families have been separated,” he said. “I’ve come back to Del Sol to tell you I’m not giving up. I will never give up.”

The speech did nothing to quell a firestorm in Washington, where Republicans geared up for a bruising fight. Earlier, House speaker John Boehner accused Obama of “undermining the rule of law” and “placing lives at risk”.

About two dozen protestors greeted the president’s cavalcade with posters and chants accusing him of being a dictator and giving amnesty to undocumented welfare seekers. “Turn your backs! Don’t let him see your faces,” instructed one organiser. The New York Post, among other media critics, dubbed the executive action “Bamnesty”.

Inside the school, however, the mood was giddy. Astrid Silva, 26, a Mexico-born activist whom Obama had singled out as a “striving, hopeful” poster child of reform, introduced him on stage amid chants of “si, se puede” – “yes we can”.

The president largely repeated his prime-time speech from Thursday, urging America to show compassion to newcomers who entered the country illegally, worked hard and put down roots yet still saw “little option but to remain in the shadows or risk their families being torn apart”.

When a heckler shouted that the executive action left millions in limbo, Obama replied: “I hear you. That’s why we have to pass a bill.” He challenged Republicans to do so, and sad he had done everything possible in a vain effort to persuade their House leader:“I told John Boehner I’d wash his car, walk his dog.”

It was a line unlikely to soothe the GOP leader. Immigration is a toxic issue for Republicans. They are united in opposition to Obama’s action but bitterly divided over how to deal with the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented migrants.

Boehner told a news conference Obama had undermined the rule of law. “The president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek,” he said. “And as I told the president yesterday, he’s damaging the presidency itself.”

Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, said unilateral executive action would “poison the well”.

Obama, who was accompanied to Las Vegas by latino leaders, appealed for cool heads.

“Washington should not let disagreement on this one issue be a deal-breaker on every issue,” he said. “Congress should not shut down government again over this.”

He said said there were undocumented people of all nationalities. “This is not just a Latino issue. This is an American issue.”

Unless major immigration legislation is passed before 2016, Obama’s decision almost certainly means immigration will be a central issue for candidates in the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, released a statement endorsing the executive action and accusing Congress of an abdication of responsibility.
the guardian

 

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