Exclusive: Obama promises to tackle immigration reform in second term
By UNIVISION NEWS
On Friday evening, Univision anchor Enrique Acevedo spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama about a number of pressing issues at the Sixth Summit of the Americas including democratization, drug legalization, immigration reform, and race relations.
Obama said he is open to a debate over decriminalizing drugs, but that he remains opposed to such a move. He also pledged action on immigration reform in the first year of a second term.
The president acknowledged that “there are times when elections alone are not enough” and that the Western Hemisphere still has pockets where free speech and other democratic freedoms are under threat in nations like Cuba and Venezuela.
“I don’t mind the debate about issues like decriminalization” of drugs, he also told Univision but he said he was not ready to endorse legalization.
Addressing the sensitive topic of immigration reform, Obama blamed Republicans for the lack of progress on reform legislation and pledged he would “try” to bring up the issue in the first year of a second term.
“I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term,” he said. “I want to try this year.
“The challenge we’ve got on immigration reform is very simple; I’ve got a majority of Democrats who are prepared to vote for it and I’ve got no Republicans who are prepared to vote for it.”
Obama went after likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney for the hard line position on immigration reform he adopted during the primary election.
“We now have a Republican nominee who said that the Arizona laws are a model for the country; that — and these are laws that potentially would allow someone to be stopped and picked up and asked where their citizenship papers are based on an assumption,” he said.
A full transcript of Obama’s interview can be found below:
UNIVISION NEWS TRANSCRIPT
Program: “Al Punto”
Content: Interview with President Barack Obama
Air Date: Sunday, April 15, 2012
EA: Enrique Acevedo, new co-anchor of Univision’s late evening newscast “Noticiero Univision Edición Nocturna”
PBO: President Barack Obama
EA: Mr. President, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
PBO: It’s wonderful to be with you.
EA: When you assumed the presidency, many Latin American leaders hoped for a new era in relations with their countries and the U.S.
EA: Three years after, many are expressing disappointment. Do you feel you could have done more to enhance relations with Latin America? Is that why you’re here?
PBO: Well, the truth is, actually, what we’ve been able to get done over the last three years has been remarkable. We have expanded trade with the region. We are in free trade agreements now with Panama and Colombia, and that’s part of the overall process of expanding commerce between the United States and Latin America by 46 percent since I took office. We have seen expansions of educational exchanges. We have seen cooperation on clean energy, and so there’s a wide range of people-to-people contacts, business contacts and governmental contacts that didn’t exist when I came into office. I think that what is true is that we can always do more, and I think expectations are always high…
EA: Very high.
PBO: …but when you look at our basic concept, which was we were going to change the dynamic between the United States and Latin America so that it was based on mutual interests, mutual respect, and the idea that we’re all equal partners in a process of improving the life chances of people in all countries in the hemisphere. I think we achieved a lot of those goals.
EA: Mr. President, the U.S. was very vocal and active in supporting democracy during the Arab Spring, but it doesn’t seem to be the case in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, even Nicaragua. Is that a double standard of American foreign policies, sir?
PBO: No, I think everywhere around the world we try to promote a single set of universal values. We believe in free speech. We believe in the free press. We believe in democracy. We believe in free and fair elections. There are times where we don’t feel as if elections alone are enough, and one of the concerns that we’ve had in the hemisphere is there’s a tendency to think that once you’ve got an election done that somehow democracy is complete. If you don’t have civil society that’s strong, if you don’t have a free press and the capacity of political parties to organize and assemble, then that process to democracy is incomplete; and so we have tried to speak out consistently in the region, sometimes in defense of governments that weren’t necessarily supportive of us when the coup took place in Honduras. We joined with other OAS countries in reinstating democracy there. There are times where we speak out, but frankly we’re not able to make the changes inside the country on our own that we’d like to see, but we’re hopeful that working together with other countries in the region that we can continue to push for greater freedom, greater democracy because not only is it good for people’s liberty, but it’s also good for their economy. Economies don’t work where people’s rights are repressed.
EA: Mr. President, this lively discussion on the issue of drug consumption, drug trafficking among the regional leadership seems to have caught American diplomacy a little off-guard. Many Latin American governments complain that the U.S. continues to filter drug trafficking by being the principle importer of these drugs. The Justice Department says there are over 20 million Americans using drugs. Do you think it’s time to change this strategy in the war against drugs?
PBO: I actually don’t think it’s taken us off guard. My first meeting with President Calderon, who obviously is engaged in a very courageous battle with narco-traffickers inside his own country, we had this discussion and I said that the United States has to be a partner in this process because it is true that we are a primary market for the drug trafficking that’s taking place in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean, and that’s why we’ve put billions of dollars since I’ve come into office into drug treatment programs, prevention programs, treating it as a public health issue so that we can lower demand. At that same time we’ve initiated unprecedented cooperation on the law enforcement side and obviously our efforts here in Colombia are an example of the progress that’s been made when it comes to issues of citizen security — and the last part of this is what we’ve tried to do is make sure that security at our borders is not just a one-way street, that we are paying a lot of attention to arms that are flowing south, cash that’s flowing south, because it’s important that we take our responsibilities seriously and not just ask other countries to do their part. This is an enormous challenge and I don’t mind a debate around issues like decriminalization. I personally don’t agree that that’s a solution to the problem, but I think that given the pressures that a lot of governments are under here, under-resourced, overwhelmed by violence, it’s completely understandable that they would look for new approaches, and we want to cooperate with them. I don’t think that legalization of drugs is going to be the answer.
EA: Mr. President, excuse the personal note, but I grew up in a generation that has lived with the unfulfilled promise of immigration reform, and I’m not that young. And do you think if you are reelected you will be the President that gets it done? And can you promise you’ll do it within the first year of your second term?
PBO: I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term. I want to try this year. The challenge we’ve got on immigration reform is very simple. I’ve got a majority of Democrats who are prepared to vote for it, and I’ve got no Republicans who are prepared to vote for it. It’s worse than that. We now have a Republican nominee who said that the Arizona laws are a model for the country; that — and these are laws that potentially would allow someone to be stopped and picked up and asked where their citizenship papers are based on an assumption.
EA: Racial profiling.
PBO: Very troublesome, and this is something that the Republican nominee has said should be a model for the country. So what we need is a change either of Congress or we need Republicans to change their mind, and I think this has to be an important debate during — throughout the country. What I’ve said to Latinos across the United States is that my passion for this issue is undiminished; that when it comes to, for example, the Dream Kids who have been raised as Americans and see themselves as Americans and want to serve their country or are willing to work hard in school and start businesses or work in our laboratories and in our businesses, it is shameful that we cannot get that done. And so I’m just going to keep on pushing as hard as I can, and what I’m going to be encouraging is the Latino community continue to ask every member of Congress where they stand on these issues, but the one thing that I think everybody needs to understand is that this is something I care deeply about. It’s personal to me, and I will do everything that I can to try to get it done. But ultimately I’m going to need Congress to help me.
EA: Now that you mention the Republican Party, you released your tax returns today. You have been doing so for the last 12 years.
EA: Do you think Mitt Romney should do the same?
PBO: Absolutely. I think that it’s important for any candidate in public office to be as transparent as possible, to let people know who we are, what we stand for, and you know, I think that this is just carrying on a tradition that has existed throughout the modern presidency.
EA: Finally, Mr. President, why is it that half a century after the Civil Rights Movement and after the American people elected their first African American President do I have to stand today here in front of you and ask you about racial tensions in the U.S.? And of course, I’m referring to the Trayvon Martin case.
PBO: Well, I think we all understand that issues of race are deeply embedded in the history of this country. Sometimes that history has been tragic, slavery, Jim Crow, but also more recent examples of anti-immigrant sentiment, and you know, I think what I always tell people is that, you know, my election alone is not going to completely transform attitudes because this has to do with hearts and not just minds. It has to do with attitudes, not just laws. On the other hand, I think we have to take heart from the fact that things have changed profoundly since I was born, and you know, when you see the next generation, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and their friends, their attitudes are more enlightened than the attitudes of my generation. So with each successive generation there are going to be misunderstandings; there are going to be tensions; there’s going to be tragedy sometimes, and what’s important for us to do is to look at it honestly, look at it squarely, but then move forward. And that’s part of the reason why issues like immigration reform are so important. We’re a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of immigrants. We draw strength from our diversity. The fact that I can talk to you as President of the United States; you’re a major television anchor, both of us having backgrounds that 20, 30 years ago wouldn’t have existed in these positions. Well, that tells a story of American progress and American strength because what it means is we have connections to Colombia and Latin America and Africa and Asia, and that’s part of our influence around the world, is that we’re not just one type of people. We’re one people, but we come from many places, and we need to build on that strength in order to win the future.
EA: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. President.
PBO: Thank you. I enjoyed it.