President Barack Obama called anew for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, saying a failure to do so will lead to “misguided” efforts such as legislation passed in Arizona.
“Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” Obama said at a Rose Garden naturalization ceremony for 24 members of the U.S. military. “That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona.”
The state legislature passed a bill that would make it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and require local police to determine the immigration status of anyone an officer suspects of being in the country without proper documentation.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who is running for a new term this year, signed the bill into law at a ceremony attended by several state officials hours after Obama’s comments. Brewer said she expects the measure to face constitutional challenges.
The measure has sparked protests in the state, where Census Bureau figures show about a quarter of the population is of Hispanic descent. It also shares a border with Mexico and has an estimated 460,000 residents living there illegally, the seventh highest total in the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
‘Notions of Fairness’
The actions by the Arizona legislature threaten “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans,” Obama said. It also may hamper trust between residents and law enforcement authorities, he said.
He said he has instructed U.S. authorities to monitor the state’s actions and to “examine the civil rights and other implications” of the legislation.
The president’s comments came at a naturalization ceremony for 24 U.S. soldiers from 16 countries who took the oath to become citizens.
Democratic congressional leaders have said an overhaul of U.S. immigration law could advance through Congress this year if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can pick up enough Republican support to get it through the chamber.
The last try at revamping the law to create a guest worker program and provide a path to citizenship for some of those living in the U.S. illegally was in 2007. That was blocked amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats.
Call for Solution
“Surely we can all agree that when 11 million people in our country are living here illegally, outside the system, that’s unacceptable,” Obama said. “The American people demand and deserve a solution.”
Obama lauded the work of Senators Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, to come up with a framework for legislation that can win bipartisan support.
Graham has said he’ll introduce legislation only after it’s finished and at least one other Republican signs on. He said this week that any effort to move immigration this year will fail badly because both parties need to “lay the groundwork” politically with tough border-control approaches first.
The president has been making calls to members of Congress, including Republicans, to win support for tackling an immigration law overhaul, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;