WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama on Thursday pushed for Congress to take up immigration reform, giving his first presidential speech on the topic and asking legislators to change a system that he called “fundamentally broken.”
“I’m ready to move, the majority of Democrats are ready to move, and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move,” Obama told an audience at American University. “But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”
“Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities,” he said. “We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair, reflective of our values and works.”
Obama said a steady stream of immigrants since the nation’s founding has helped make the United States “the engine of the global economy.”
But he expressed concerns about border security and the legal immigration process.
“Our borders have been porous for decades,” Obama said, and the process for becoming a legal resident “is as broken as the borders.”
Obama said reform at the federal level was crucial to prevent a “patchwork” of state laws from cropping up, such as the strict Arizona immigration laws, which Obama called “ill conceived.”
Obama said there is less crime along the southern U.S. border thanks to ramped up numbers of personnel and screening all southbound shipments.
But he issued a call for accountability among undocumented workers and the business owners who hire them.
“We cannot continue just to look the other way as a significant portion of our economy operates outside the law,” Obama said, adding that he is stepping up enforcement against businesses who hire undocumented workers.
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Obama said that instead of granting them blanket amnesty, illegal immigrants “should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English.”
Obama said the government has stemmed increases in naturalization fees and enabled applicants for residency to track the status of their application via email or text message, but the entire immigration system needs to be reworked.
“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,” Obama said.