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Reaction To Obama's Immigration Speech
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Reaction To Obama's Immigration Speech

Politics

Reaction To Obama's Immigration Speech

Reaction To Obama's Immigration Speech
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On Thursday, President Obama gave first speech devoted to immigration since taking office. Host Michel Martin speaks with undocumented immigrant Gaby Pacheco of Miami for her reaction to the speech. Tell Me More's regular contributor Ruben Navarrette weighs in as well.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Later, the Barbershop guys focus on Justice Clarence Thomas and his pointed opinion on how racial attitudes factor into gun control laws. They'll also talk about King James - LeBron James, that is - and we'll get their opinion on who will show him the money. We'll also talk today about the senators who seem to take on Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. We have Thurgood Marshall, Jr. with us for his perspective on this.

But first, we talk immigration reform. The president waded into those rough waters yesterday, as if dealing with the BP oil spill, record high American deaths in Afghanistan, financial reform legislation and obstinate levels of unemployment were not enough. But the president made the point that he had been elected, in part, to address pressing issues that had long been deferred.

In his speech at American University, his major - his first major address on immigration since taking office, he said the system is broken.

BARACK OBAMA, Host:

In sum, the system is broken, and everybody knows it. Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special interest wrangling and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics.

MARTIN: We wanted to talk more about the speech, so we've called Ruben Navarrette. Now, we normally hear from him in our Barbershop segment. He's a regular commentator on our program and a syndicated columnist at the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He's been writing about immigration for years.

And, also, to give a more personal perspective, we've called Gabby Pacheco. She joins us from WLRN in Miami. Gabby moved to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was seven, with her parents. Now at 25, she still doesn't have legal authorization to remain in the U.S. She recently walked from Florida to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness for the many undocumented young people in her situation.

Previously, she spoke with us on our program about Dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for young people like her who came to the U.S. without authorization, as long as they meet certain conditions. And we're happy to have both of them with us now. Welcome back to you both.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Thank you, Michel.

GABBY PACHECO: Thank you.

MARTIN: Gabby, let's start with you - just, I'd like to ask if you were encouraged by the president's speech, by the fact that the even gave such a speech.

PACHECO: Well, there's definitely rejoice in the community that the fact that he finally gave a major speech about immigration. But at the same time, I think that the community wanted to hear more. They wanted to hear concrete examples of how we were going to move this issue forward. I think that he has been talking about immigration for a very long time. He talked about it even as he was a candidate for the presidency. And I think that the community is suffering way too much already, and they want something for this administration to deliver as soon as possible.

MARTIN: Ruben, what is your sense of why this issue has taken as long as it has to move forward? I mean, you've been very critical of the president on that very point.

NAVARRETTE: Right. Sure.

MARTIN: But you're also a person who's criticized them for having too much on his plate. I do think it is worth noting that President - that both candidate Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain, both favored a path to citizenship, immigration reform...

NAVARRETTE: That's right.

MARTIN: ...as did his predecessor, George W. Bush. So what's your sense of why?

NAVARRETTE: Why it's taken so long for Obama to get around to this issue?

MARTIN: Or for the system to get around to this issue.

NAVARRETTE: Well, the Congress has a deadlock, and it's very simple. Democrats don't want to talk about this issue because it divides their coalition between Latinos on the one hand and organized labor on the other. Republicans don't want to talk about the issue because it divides their coalition between nativists on the one hand, law-and-order types - nativists on the one hand, and big business on the other. So they have this gentlemen's agreement where they just don't want to talk about the issue because it's bad for both parties.

President Obama has not cared about immigration. It's an issue he hasn't - has never really resonated with him in the way that health care reform resonated with him, education reform resonates with him. He has two or three issues that he really cares about that go back to his own life experience. And I find it interesting, as someone who's the son of a foreign-born parent - his father was foreign born, not an immigrant in a typical sense, but a foreign student who came here to study - I would think he'd be more connected to this issue. He is not. He has not been.

And I think that the comments are clear that even though he gave a good speech - he always gives good speeches. He gives great speeches. He diagnosed the problem brilliantly. And then when it came time to diagnose the solution or offer a solution or prescription, he failed.

MARTIN: Why do you think that he gave this speech at this time?

NAVARRETTE: Well, you know, the speculation that - I would've predicted that the he was laying the groundwork for a coming lawsuit, a lawsuit about to come down the way from Eric Holder at the Justice Department against the Arizona law. But given that he didn't reference that, and the New York Times editorial page this morning mentioned that he didn't make any reference to a coming lawsuit, there's a sense that that lawsuit may not even materialize.

MARTIN: I have not forgotten about this issue. But it's had the reverse effect, because you tease people, you tempt them and say, listen. I'm going to do this. We need to do this. And then you never do it.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're talking about President Obama's address on immigration reform yesterday with Ruben Navarrette. He's one of our regular contributors. He's written extensively about this issue over a period of many years.

Also with us is Gabby Pacheco. Gabby moved to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was seven with her parents. She's an advocate of something called the Dream Act, which would demonstrate a path to citizenship - or allow a path to citizenship for young people like her, in her situation, who came here as young people with certain conditions.

Now, you're both critical of the president for not taking this on more forcefully or perhaps sooner. He did lay down certain markers for what he expects of undocumented people in an effort to gain citizenship. I just want to play that short clip. Here it is.

OBAMA: They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English. They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship.

MARTIN: Gabby - fair, unfair in your view?

PACHECO: I think that there is - there has to be a process. But at the same time, when I look about, you know, I think about my story and I think about me being seven years old and him saying I broke the law at that age, it's hard for me to believe, you know, that we are moving forward. And I do speak the language. I've been here for many years. And I think that the fine that I have paid for not having my papers is not being able to accomplish my dream, not being able to fully be integrated and respected as a human being in this country.

MARTIN: Well, the Dream Act does set conditions. You have to graduate from high school.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: You have to - get college or do military service, which presumably you support - do you not support those conditions either, Gabby?

PACHECO: No, I do support those conditions. And I think that that's what I get angry about, the fact that, you know, those conditions are there. They're fair. All the students would love to have the opportunity to be able to complete those six years and get their legal permanent residency. But no action has been done. We've been waiting for nine years. We're going to go into this 10th year of the Dream Act, and there's been no movement on that, as well.

MARTIN: Ruben, what's your take on these conditions that President Obama laid out. Fair or unfair?

NAVARRETTE: I think it's very fair. I think they're great. I think the president - that was the best part of the speech, where he basically said, listen, you have the crazy folks over on the right wing, okay? And they want all this crazy stuff that's not realistic. We're not going to deport 12 million people. Then you got these crazy folks over on the left wing, and they want all this crazy stuff like a non-conditional, blanket amnesty.

And he said, I'm in the middle, and we need to be in the middle, and we're in the sensible center. Kudos. That was his A-plus performance right there. That was the best part of the speech. There were other places, I think, where he fell down on the job, but on that part, he was right on.

And I would say to Gabby, you know, it wasn't the system that did you wrong when you were seven years old and the president labels you a lawbreaker. It was, in fact, your parents, your parents who brought you here illegally and kept you in the dark as to your legal status, and in some cases may have not done anything to correct that status - at least in some people I know.

Now, this is at a very core, real level what is going here. And it's always tempting, I think, of the Latino community to blame somebody else for our problems. In this case, it's not Obama's fault. It's not the government's fault. It's the parents' fault.

MARTIN: Gabby, do you want to respond to that?

PACHECO: Yeah, definitely. I think that my parents are heroes. I think that my parents did the right thing by ensuring that my safety was, you know, first, and they brought me to this country and gave me the opportunity to be able to live free. And unfortunately, there wasn't a way and a pathway to correctly be able to stay in this country with legal status, even though my parents tried every single possible way.

So I think it is the system. I think it is, you know, the rules and regulations and how it's set up in the country that does not allow for people like myself that have three degrees, that has a bachelors in special education, and wants to contribute to this country and loves living in this country and feels, you know, embraced by my community.

MARTIN: Well, Gabby, can I just ask you this, though: Do you have any sympathy for people who say that a country like this, which is filled with people with many different ethnic backgrounds, religions, value systems and stuff, that law is what binds us and that we have to have respect for the rule of law? It's our governing principle here. And so there has to be some penalty for people who broke the law, however well intentioned they may have been. Do you have any sympathy for that perspective?

PACHECO: Well, I completely agree with that. I think that there has to be rules and regulations. But my point is that there isn't. There isn't any rules and regulations for families that come to this country and want to contribute to it, and my family's a prime example of that. They came here. They tried to open a business. They tried to get their legal status through a lawyer, but unfortunately, that wasn't through, and that didn't come through. And now we've been living here for 18 years, and we have no pathway to be able to correct that.

MARTIN: Ruben, I'm going to ask you in the minute and a half we have left to offer your sense of a pathway, of what happens next.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: And I know I'm asking you to speculate, and I apologize.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: But I would like your sense of what you think is going to happen next.

NAVARRETTE: Politically, what's going to happen next: I think what's going to happen is that this is going to be put on the back burner until spring 2011. In a new Congress, Senator Chuck Schumer from New York is going to propose a reform bill that's heavy on enforcement. He's already laid out the basic principles of it. He himself has been teasing us for two years, he's going to do this. He hasn't done it. He'll do it in spring 2011. In March, he said it.

And then the president will come forward with a new Congress, and ironically, the fact that you have probably at least one chamber, if not both, going Republican - when you get rid of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, you actually increase the chances that you can do immigration reform in Congress.

MARTIN: Really? Why?

NAVARRETTE: Because it diminishes the imprint of organized labor, which has been the major sticking point in this debate, because they don't want to give a program to people like Gabby unless they can ensure that we don't put in guest workers because they think - they live under this fantasy that Americans are dying to go pick peaches and guest workers would take those jobs from Americans. It's nonsense.

So if you get rid of Pelosi and Reid, you put Republicans in charge, Obama might actually stand a better chance of getting this through. But this is a 2011 deal. This is way down the future.

MARTIN: Are you disappointed, though, that it hasn't - I mean, as a person who's been covering politics for a long time...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...and I know you like to live in the real world, but are you disappointed?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah?

NAVARRETTE: I am disappointed...

MARTIN: Briefly.

NAVARRETTE: ...the president hasn't kept his promises, and he's made serious promises, repeated promises. He keeps teasing the Latino community, and I doubt that they'll be there for him much longer.

MARTIN: Ruben Navarrette joined us from San Diego. He's a regular commentator on this program, in our Barbershop segment and other segments, and he's a syndicated columnist at the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. Also with us from Miami, Gabby Pacheco. She joined us from WLRN. As we mentioned, she moved to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was seven with her parents. And she's an advocate of the Dream Act. And I thank you both so much for joining us.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. PACHECO. Thank you.

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