Obama goes on offensive over immigration


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The Independent US

Taking up an issue that he apparently hopes will figure strongly in next year's presidential campaign, Barack Obama has visited the southern border of Texas to renew his call for a shake-up of the immigration system that will provide a "path to citizenship" for the 11 million people living illegally in the United States.

Speaking near to a bridge linking El Paso with the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, the President launched an uncharacteristically aggressive attack on Republicans who call him "soft" on immigration, saying that since taking office he has "strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible" and now intends to pursue a "comprehensive" solution that deals with the root causes of the problem.

President Obama advocates a new system under which undocumented workers who admit they broke the law by entering the US in the first place will be required to pay fines and back taxes. After undergoing a background check and waiting for roughly eight years, they will eventually be allowed to claim US citizenship.

The short-term chances of him being able to pass such a law are slim to non-existent, since Republicans who control the House of Representatives (and, despite being in the minority, have powers of veto in the Senate) are strongly opposed to any move that will grant what they say amounts to an amnesty to people who have committed a crime.

But Tuesday afternoon's speech was as much about electoral manoeuvring as it was about actual legislative change. In 2008, Obama won the election with the support of roughly two-thirds of Latino voters, but polls say that his support in the community has since slipped to around 54 per cent.

With their estimated population at 45 million, and growing fast, the President is anxious to sell his party as the natural home of Hispanic voters in the run-up to next November's poll.

At the same time as courting the minority vote, the President must be careful not to alienate white, working-class "blue-dog" Democrats in mid-western swing states such as Indiana and Ohio, which have relatively small Latino communities. With this in mind, he stressed that while seeking reform, his administration has been doggedly enforcing existing laws. In his first two years, Mr Obama deported 783,000 undocumented workers, an increase of 19 per cent on the Bush era. The number of border patrol officers has meanwhile doubled since 2004, while a large fence now provides a physical barrier to migrants.

To applause and laughter from a mostly supportive crowd, the President argued that opponents of immigration reform have ignored the improving situation. "Now they're going to say that we need to quadruple the border patrol," he said. "Or they'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied! And I understand that. That's politics."