Obama Criticizes New Arizona Immigration Law
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The immigration debate heated up today with a stroke of a pen. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a controversial bill into law. It requires local police officers to question people they suspect of being in the country illegally. Earlier today, President Obama criticized the bill and he acknowledged that the federal government must fix what he called its broken immigration system or run the risk of an angry backlash. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
Unidentified Group: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama spoke on a day of celebration for legal immigrants. Twenty-four new citizens took their oath this morning in the White House Rose Garden. Their naturalization had been fast-tracked by their service in the U.S. military.
President BARACK OBAMA: It is a great honor to serve as your commander-in-chief, and it is my greatest pleasure to be among the first to greet you as a fellow American.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said the uniformed citizens have met their responsibilities. Now, he said, the federal government should do the same - by passing a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system, including both tougher border enforcement and the path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants already here.
Noisy opposition to so-called amnesty has scuttled past overhaul efforts, but Mr. Obama said it's unacceptable to let so many illegal immigrants continue to live underground.
Pres. OBAMA: Indeed, our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.
HORSLEY: Critics complain the new Arizona law requiring police to question those suspected of being in the country illegally will lead to racial profiling. And President Obama has directed the Justice Department to be on the lookout for possible civil rights violations.
In signing the law today, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer insisted she would not tolerate racial discrimination but she blamed the federal government for making the tough measure necessary.
Governor JAN BREWER (Republican, Arizona): The bill I'm about to sign into law represents another tool for our state to use as we work to solve a crisis that we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix.
HORSLEY: Majority leader Harry Reid reportedly wants the Senate to take up the hot-button immigration issue before an energy and climate bill, which has been one of the president's top priorities. Mr. Obama said he welcomes Reid's commitment on immigration, though Senate Democrats will need at least some Republican support to move forward.
Pres. OBAMA: I would note that 11 current Republican senators voted to pass immigration reform four years ago.
HORSLEY: One of those senators is Arizona's John McCain. But this year, McCain faces a Republican primary challenge and has to contend with strong conservative opposition to anything that smacks of amnesty. At the same time, lawmakers from both parties are wary of alienating the large and growing block of Latino voters.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.