Spanish Language Media Holds President Obama To His Promises


Photo by lauren victoria burke.

When President Obama hit the talk show circuit last weekend, he also included a visit to Al Punto, Univision’s weekend news program with anchor Jorge Ramos. Ramos questioned the President about undocumented immigrants, health care reform and his promise to reform the U.S. immigration system within the first year of his presidency.

A tiny soundbite from that interview circulated the media last week which focused on the timing of comprehensive immigration reform, but the real lesson from this interview is that people are watching the subtle shifts in language and wording the administration has been using to discuss immigration and whether those shifts represent a change in commitment. Mr. Ramos politely but firmly pressed the President to answer to his promises—“la promesa de Obama”—to the U.S. immigrant and Latino population. The answers show a president who remains committed to immigration reform but who is also facing a series of practical challenges that have consequences for his full political agenda.

A portion of the transcript as provided by Univision follows:

Jorge Ramos
Do you believe that undocumented immigrants should be required to buy insurance? Basically, what I would like to know is, could you clarify if they will have access to private insurance in the exchange?

President Obama
Right now, the plan that we’ve put forward, I want to be absolutely clear, should not include undocumented workers, because I think that as is true with SCHIP, as is true with all our various social insurance programs, you’ve gotta be an American citizen, or at least a legal resident in terms of access for those programs. Now, as I’ve said before, and as I did with SCHIP, I do think that children of legal residents, for example, should have access to care. That’s good for all of us. And that’s a principal that I will continue to fight for.

Jorge Ramos
But if an undocumented immigrant wants to buy private insurance…

President Obama
If they want to buy private insurance, then that’s between them and their private insurer, but they can’t do it through the exchange because the exchange is going to be part of an overall plan including subsidies and I don’t think it’s fair for American taxpayers to be including those subsidies. Particularly when there’s not gonna be a lot of money to go around.

Jorge Ramos
Then, there are going to be millions of people who are not going to be covered. So if undocumented immigrants can’t get either public or private insurance, then they’re going to keep on going to the emergency rooms of the hospitals, and this is too expensive. Isn’t that exactly what you wanted to avoid in the first place?

President Obama
Well look, the… Here’s what I’d like to deal with. I’d really like to solve our immigration problem, but I can’t solve every problem all at once. The immigration problem is one set of problems and a whole range of issues are raised through immigration. Healthcare is a problem that doesn’t just affect all Americans. It especially affects Hispanic Americans, who have the highest rate of uninsurance. Now I’m not talking about undocumented now.

Jorge Ramos
I have a specific problem and let me see how we can find a solution. There are four million children born in the United States who have at least one undocumented parent. What are they supposed to do?

President Obama
Well, if they are born in the United States, they are U.S. citizens. And we’re gonna make sure…

Jorge Ramos
Yes, but one of their parents…

President Obama
We’re gonna make sure that those children are covered, as we already have expanding coverage with respect to SCHIP. As I said, Jorge, we’re gonna have to solve the immigration problem. That’s a commitment that I have made.

Jorge Ramos
I’m interested to know what happened after Joe Wilson said you lied in Congress. Was that the moment in which you think undocumented immigrants got involved into these healthcare debates?

President Obama
No, no, no…

Jorge Ramos
What happened?

President Obama
Well, well… Keep in mind, first of all, I said that undocumented workers wouldn’t be covered before Joe Wilson shouted. So obviously, if there was any cause and effect, it wasn’t from what I said. It wasn’t me responding to him. But this is a position that I have said consistently during the campaign. There’s been no change in my approach.

Jorge Ramos
Now, in your speech to Congress you used the words “illegal immigrants.” However, and I remember very clearly, during the campaign you were very careful to use the words “undocumented immigrants”. Why the change? You said words matter. Now, why do you choose to use the language that is being used by…

President Obama
Well, keep in mind…

Jorge Ramos
…those who criticize immigrants.

President Obama
Well, keep in mind what I was addressing. I was addressing misinformation by the other side that was engaging in scare tactics. So I was essentially quoting them. I was saying, “for those of you who are saying that illegal immigrants are going to be covered under this plan,” I said that’s not true. Right? So I’m using their language because I was addressing the misinformation that they are providing. And I was speaking directly to an audience, the American people, who because of this misinformation, I think actually were very responding oftentimes in a negative way.

Jorge Ramos
OK, so. But what I wanted to ask you is about what Latino’s call, “la promesa de Obama – Obama’s promise.” On May 28th you told me, and I am quoting, “what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support.” And then I asked again, “in the first year?” And you said, “Yes, in the first year.” This is your promise and the question that many of them have is, are you going to keep your promise. Can you do it before January 20th?

President Obama
Here’s what I’ve said. I have met with not just the Hispanic caucus, but leaders from both the House and the Senate, Republican and Democrat. I’ve said I want to get this done. I’ve put Secretary Janet Napolitano, of Homeland Security, in charge of first making a whole host of administrative changes and eliminating the most negative practices that we have been seeing. And then what I’ve said is, start working up legislation that we think can, over time, move through Congress. Now, whether that bill gets introduced on November 15th or December 15th or January 15th, that’s not really the issue. I mean, it would be easy for us to get a bill introduced. The challenge is getting the bill passed. And there I’ve been realistic. What I said is that this is going to be a tough fight and that we’re going to have to make sure that we are working as hard as we can to do it. I am not backing off one minute from getting this done, but let’s face it, I’ve had a few things to do. We had an economic crisis that almost…

Jorge Ramos
I understand.

President Obama
…saw a financial meltdown. Healthcare has taken longer than I would have liked, but it’s a big, tough issue. Immigration reform is gonna be tough as well, but I think we can get it done.

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  • LILI

    We have a lot of hope on President Obama. We need all those people to get out of the shadows. A lot a immigrant pay tax they have there own business, they are very hard workers. If all those people pay tax they can used the money to create jobs, health, schools etc

  • Roy Stanley

    Dear Mr. President,

    We all know the first agenda for the new administration was to work on the Economy. Our country is in a dire financial crisis.

    Now, to a subject that needs serious and a speedily resolve,

    IMMIGRATION REFORM

    Mr. President you made a commitment to the Latino Community, that this would be, a top priority in your first year in office. At present is appears to be put on the “back burner”

    NOW is the time to tackle this problem.

    We know there are 12 Million undocumented in the country, and they are not going away. Let them come forward, pay a fine of $1000, pay all back taxes, be required to learn English, and be committed to either military service or community service for 2 years. Furthermore, they must undergo background checks, and any criminal activity will result in deportation.

    Once they have completed all of the above, they must be given a special status to work, but stand in line for eventual citizenship.

    The fine will generate a huge amount of money for the countries treasury, they will now be paying taxes, and contributing to Social Security.

    Please urge all Democrat Senators and Congressman

    To address this issue NOW !

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