Today, President Obama delivered his first major immigration speech at American University urging Republicans to put bipartisan and election politics aside and help Democrats fix our broken immigration system once and for all. With an audience of law enforcement, elected officials, and evangelical, business, labor, and community leaders, the President provided a framework for understanding the depth and complexity of the immigration issue—laying out the fundamental problems with our immigration system while highlighting the critical role immigrants have and continue to play in strengthening America. The President then asked Republican leadership to join his Administration’s efforts to step up, take responsibility and pass an immigration reform bill.

In today’s speech, the President made it clear that this Administration is ready to move forward. Action is needed, but he needs Republicans support.

Our task then is to make our national laws actually work – to shape a system that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And that means being honest about the problem, and getting past the false debates that divide the country rather than bring it together.

The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done… I’m ready to move forward; the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward; and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem. Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality. The only way to reduce the risk that this effort will again falter because of politics is if members of both parties are willing to take responsibility for solving this problem once and for all.

I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that’s accountable. I believe we can appeal not to people’s fears but to their hopes, to their highest ideals, because that’s who we are as Americans.

Today’s speech follows back to back White House meetings this week with immigration advocates, faith groups, labor leaders and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The speech also follows the President’s request for $600 million in additional border security spending to fund 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents, 160 additional ICE agents, and improved infrastructure along the Southwest Border. Although the President mentioned Arizona’s harsh immigration law, he did not comment on Department of Justice’s forthcoming legal challenge. The President did, however, reiterate that fixing the border alone is not a long term solution to our immigration problems.

Although today’s speech contained no new policy initiatives or a congressional timetable for reform, the President certainly made the case for why immigration is such an important issue. Now that the stage is set for a renewed and heightened reform effort, immigration advocates are waiting for the President to turn his words into action and show the same leadership moving immigration reform legislation forward that he showed today.

Photo by Peter Souza.