Obama Blasts GOP, Calls Ariz. Law "Ill Conceived"

Barack Obama

Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

President Obama today chided states like Arizona for taking the "ill-conceived" step of taking immigration reform into their own hands. While he insisted immigration reform must be addressed at the federal level, he blasted Republicans for not getting on board.

"I'm ready to move forward," Mr. Obama said in a speech at American University in Washington. "The majority of Democrats are ready to move forward. And I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward."

Yet, he added, "Without bipartisan support... we cannot solve this problem." Immigration reform, he said, "cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality."

Many of the 11 Republican senators who voted for comprehensive immigration reform in the past have changed their position, Mr. Obama said.

In the absence of federal reform, states have taken matters into their own hands. But Arizona's controversial new law has made immigration reform "a source of fresh contention" nationally, Mr. Obama said. The Arizona law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires local officials to enforce the law in ways some say could lead to racial profiling.

"Given the levels of frustration across the country, this is understandable, but it is also ill-conceived," the president said.

The Arizona law, Mr. Obama said, puts "huge pressures" on local law enforcement to enforce rules "ultimately unforceable." It also makes it difficult for illegal immigrants to report crimes, and the president said, has the "potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents because of what they look like or how they sound."

As more states consider such laws, he said, "We face the prospect that different rules for immigration will apply in different parts of the country."

Mr. Obama conceded that "our borders have been porous for decades" and said that illegal immigration "makes a mockery" of the legal system.

However, he said, "The legal immigration system is as broken as the border."

The program's slow bureaucracy and backlog of applicants must be addressed if the nation is to resolve its immigration issues, he said.

"The system is broken, and everybody knows it," Mr. Obama said. "Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special interest wrangling."

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Of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, Mr. Obama said, "the overwhelming majority" are simply looking for a better life. Hurdles in the immigration system, like high fees and the need for lawyers, can keep them from entering the country legally.

At the same time, he said, "no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable."

Still, deporting all of the nation's immigration system would be "logistically impossible and wildly expensive," he said. "Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric."

The president also discounted calls to seal the border before tackling comprehensive immigration reform. It is an unrealistic approach, the president said, and he suggested it misrepresents the facts.

Mr. Obama highlighted the steps the administration has taken to secure the border, commenting that there are "more boots on the ground" at the Southern border now than at any other time in history. Statistics suggest a significant reduction in the number of people trying to cross the border illegally, he said, while the government is now seizing more illegal guns and drugs crossing the border than in years past because of screening of all Southbound trucks.

"The southern border is more secure today than at any time in 20 years," Mr. Obama said, adding, "That doesn't mean we don't have more work to do."