WASHINGTON - The following is the full text of President Barack Obama's speech on Thursday on his plans for immigration, as prepared for delivery, according to a White House statement:
"My fellow Americans, tonight, I'd like to talk with you about immigration. For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It's kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial.
It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities - people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose. But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it. Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules.
Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offence to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America.
And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart. It's been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven't done much about it. When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders.
Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it's been in nearly two years.
Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts. Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn't perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense.
It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.
Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.
Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President - the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me - that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.
Tonight, I am announcing those actions. First, we'll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.
Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.
Third, we'll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country. I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy.
Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable - especially those who may be dangerous. That's why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 per cent.
And that's why we're going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who's working hard to provide for her kids. We'll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.
But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants - in every state, of every race and nationality - will still live here illegally. And let's be honest - tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn't realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't being straight with you.