Obama makes push for immigration reform

An anti-deportation protester (R) in the audience shouts against US President Barack Obama (L), stopping him temporarily from delivering remarks during an event on immigration reform in San Francsico, November 25, 2013. Obama is attending fundraisers and events on immigration policy reform in San Francisco on Monday.

The contribution of Asian immigrants to the United States was the focus of President Barack Obama's latest push to get Congress to pass immigration reform.

Speaking at an event in San Francisco's Chinatown on Monday, he delivered a speech that all at once tried to shift the focus of the issue away from Latin Americans and paint Republicans as the party responsible for all manner of gridlock in the nation's capital.

Indeed, while it was billed as an address about immigration reform, it turned out to be a speech with a bit of everything: a spirited defence of the interim nuclear deal with Iran, a reference to that "darn website" at the heart of the botched health-care roll-out and even a bit of drama.

Just before he wrapped up, Mr Obama was heckled by a member of the audience chosen specifically to stand behind him during the speech. The man yelled persistently for Mr Obama to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Mr Obama responded first by stopping security from removing the man and then replying that immigration reform needs to happen through Congress.

"The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I'm proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won't be as easy as shouting," he said.

Mr Obama had earlier begun his remarks on immigration by saying that the debate "focuses on our southern border" when immigrants come from all over.

He said one in four US residents born outside the country comes from an Asian country. He added that San Francisco has both a large number of business owners who are immigrants and a strong economy.

He said: "They're hungry and they're striving and they're working hard and they're creating things that weren't here before."

In many ways, the immigration problem in the US mirrors the experience around the world where the desire to attract talent needs to be balanced with local concerns about jobs and integration.

Mr Obama said the proposed reform - which involves strengthening borders, making it easier to attract entrepreneurs and giving immigrants already in the country a pathway to citizenship - would grow the economy by US$1.4 trillion (S$1.8 trillion) over the next 20 years.

But for the first time on Monday, he indicated he would accept a piecemeal approach to reform rather than having to do it all in one law. He largely blamed Republican lawmakers for the fact that there has been little progress despite wide support.

On Iran, he hit back at critics of the deal by saying that the US cannot close the door on diplomacy. He said: "Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing for our security."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


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