Earlier today, The Tennessean published the following op-ed from President Obama. In it, he discusses his executive actions to help make America's immigration system smarter and fairer, and why we still need Congress to pass a common-sense law to fix the system.
Many Americans think of Nashville as the home of country music, barbecue, and a hit TV show. What they may not realize is that, in recent years, Music City also has had one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country.
"New Nashvillians" are from Somalia and Nepal and Laos. They're from Mexico and Bangladesh. Nashville even boasts the largest Kurdish community in the United States. They work as teachers in our schools, doctors in our hospitals, and cops in our neighborhoods. They start small businesses and create jobs making this city a more prosperous, more innovative place. "They" are "us."
When done right, immigration benefits everyone. But our immigration system has been broken for a long time. Families who try to come here the right way can get stuck in line for years. Business owners who treat their workers right see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants. None of us likes the idea that someone could reap the rewards of living in America without its responsibilities. And folks who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities have no way to come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
A year and a half ago, a big majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in the Senate came together to pass a commonsense, compromise bill to fix our broken immigration system. It would have helped strengthen border security, while giving undocumented immigrants who already live here a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. Independent experts said it would grow our economy and shrink our deficits.
If the House of Representatives allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on that kind of bill, it would have passed into law. But for more than a year and a half, Republican leaders in the House have blocked that simple vote.
I still believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of law. But until then, there are actions I have the legal authority to take that will help make our immigration system smarter and fairer. And I took those actions last month.
We're providing more resources at the border to help law enforcement personnel stop illegal crossings, and send home those who do cross over. We'll focus enforcement resources on people who are threats to our security – felons, not families; criminals, not children.
And we'll bring out of the shadows many undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents so they can play by the rules, pass a criminal background check, and get right with the law. This isn't amnesty, or legalization, or even a path to citizenship. It doesn't apply to anyone who has come to this country recently, or who might come illegally in the future. This is accountability.
These are the kind of lawful actions taken by every President, Republican and Democrat, for the past 50 years. So when folks in Congress question these actions to make our immigration system work better, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to get this done. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I've taken will no longer be necessary.
What's disappointing is that, so far, the only response from Republicans in the House was their vote last week to try to force talented young people and workers to leave our country. It makes no sense. Rather than deport students, and separate families, and make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, we just need Congress to work with us to pass a commonsense law to fix our broken immigration system.
Meanwhile, Washington shouldn't let disagreement over one issue be a deal breaker on every issue. That's not how our democracy works. Americans are tired of gridlock. We're ready to work together and move forward, just like so many Americans across the country do every day.
While most Americans support immigration reform, many disagree with the actions I've taken. I understand the concerns of those who worry that immigration will change the fabric of this country, or take our jobs, or stick it to the middle class. We've had those concerns since the Irish and Italians were sailing to Boston and New York. Yet our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for the economy.
What cities like Nashville prove is that we can work together to address those concerns and make sure that immigration works for everybody – because it's the right thing to do for our economy and our communities. And a couple of weeks ago, I created a Task Force on New Americans, which will focus on integrating immigrants into communities across the country.
That's what makes America exceptional. We welcome strivers and dreamers from all around the world, people who share our ideals and have the same dreams for our kids. And if we keep harnessing that potential, there's no limit to what this country can achieve.