Obama Talks Immigration at American University
by Heather Hahn
The United States must reform its immigration system to reflect "our values" as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, President Obama said July 1 at American University, a United Methodist-related institution.
The federal government has a responsibility to secure the borders and hold businesses accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, he said. The estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. also should pay fines, register for taxes and learn English to be on the pathway to citizenship, he said.
But the nation also needs to change laws that leave many would-be immigrants waiting for years to enter the U.S. legally.
"Stopping illegal immigration must go hand in hand with reforming our creaky system of legal immigration," he said.
The case for reform
Obama chose to make the case for reform before an audience of about 250 religious, business, labor and community leaders at the university's School of International Service. The university in Washington, D.C., has been a frequent site for presidential addresses going back to its dedication in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson.
Washington Area Bishop John R. Schol delivered the morning's invocation.
The United Methodist leader asked God "to watch over those who protect our borders and those who seek a new life by crossing our borders."
The United Methodist Church has long called on its congregations "to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all."
The 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, also called for the United States to reform immigration laws and make "family unity, students being able to get an education at an affordable rate, fair and just treatment of laborers and a reasonable path towards citizenship a priority."
In its call for reform, the denomination has found allies among many fellow Christians, including Catholics and evangelicals.
Introducing Obama on Thursday was the Rev. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of the nondenominational Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.
Hybels spoke of discovering that in the Hispanic congregation his church started, many of the members were undocumented. He said he believed the United States should find a bipartisan solution to make it easier for people to legally enter the United States and find a better life.
He noted that a recurring theme in the Bible is caring for the widows, orphans and aliens.
Obama credited his predecessor President George W. Bush with "courageous leadership" in trying to change "a broken and dangerous system."
He said the country has long been strengthened by immigrants who have brought innovation and new businesses to American life.
"I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that's accountable," Obama said. "I believe we can appeal not to people's fears, but to their hopes, to their highest ideals, because that's who we are as Americans."
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
Date posted: Jul 02, 2010