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  • The President: My fellow Americans, tonight,

  • I'd like to talk with you about immigration.

  • For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming

  • immigrants from around the world has given

  • us a tremendous advantage over other nations.

  • It's kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial.

  • It has shaped our character as a people with limitless

  • possibilities -- people not trapped by our past,

  • but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

  • But today, our immigration system is broken --

  • and everybody knows it.

  • Families who enter our country the right way

  • and play by the rules watch others flout the rules.

  • Business owners who offer their workers good wages

  • and benefits see the competition exploit

  • undocumented immigrants by paying them far less.

  • All of us take offense to anyone who reaps

  • the rewards of living in America without taking

  • on the responsibilities of living in America.

  • And undocumented immigrants who desperately

  • want to embrace those responsibilities see

  • little option but to remain in the shadows,

  • or risk their families being torn apart.

  • It's been this way for decades.

  • And for decades, we haven't done much about it.

  • When I took office, I committed to fixing

  • this broken immigration system.

  • And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders.

  • Today, we have more agents and technology deployed

  • to secure our southern border than at any time

  • in our history.

  • And over the past six years, illegal border crossings

  • have been cut by more than half.

  • Although this summer, there was a brief spike

  • in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our

  • border, the number of such children is now actually

  • lower than it's been in nearly two years.

  • Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border

  • illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s.

  • Those are the facts.

  • Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive

  • fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans,

  • and independents came together to pass

  • a bipartisan bill in the Senate.

  • It wasn't perfect.

  • It was a compromise.

  • But it reflected common sense.

  • It would have doubled the number

  • of border patrol agents while giving

  • undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship

  • if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes,

  • and went to the back of the line.

  • And independent experts said that it would

  • help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

  • Had the House of Representatives allowed

  • that kind of bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would

  • have passed with support from both parties,

  • and today it would be the law.

  • But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders

  • in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.

  • Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve

  • this problem is by working together to pass that

  • kind of common sense law.

  • But until that happens, there are actions I have

  • the legal authority to take as President --

  • the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic

  • and Republican presidents before me --

  • that will help make our immigration system

  • more fair and more just.

  • Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

  • First, we'll build on our progress at the border with

  • additional resources for our law enforcement personnel

  • so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings,

  • and speed the return of those who do cross over.

  • Second, I'll make it easier and faster for high-skilled

  • immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay

  • and contribute to our economy, as so many

  • business leaders have proposed.

  • Third, we'll take steps to deal responsibly with

  • the millions of undocumented immigrants who already

  • live in our country.

  • I want to say more about this third issue,

  • because it generates the most passion and controversy.

  • Even as we are a nation of immigrants,

  • we're also a nation of laws.

  • Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws,

  • and I believe that they must be held accountable --

  • especially those who may be dangerous.

  • That's why, over the past six years,

  • deportations of criminals are up 80 percent.

  • And that's why we're going to keep focusing

  • enforcement resources on actual threats

  • to our security.

  • Felons, not families.

  • Criminals, not children.

  • Gang members, not a mom who's working hard to provide

  • for her kids.

  • We'll prioritize, just like law enforcement

  • does every day.

  • But even as we focus on deporting criminals,

  • the fact is, millions of immigrants in every state,

  • of every race and nationality still live here illegally.

  • And let's be honest -- tracking down, rounding up,

  • and deporting millions of people isn't realistic.

  • Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't being

  • straight with you.

  • It's also not who we are as Americans.

  • After all, most of these immigrants have been

  • here a long time.

  • They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs.

  • They support their families.

  • They worship at our churches.

  • Many of their kids are American-born or spent most

  • of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams,

  • and patriotism are just like ours.

  • As my predecessor, President Bush,

  • once put it: "They are a part of American life."

  • Now here's the thing: We expect people who live

  • in this country to play by the rules.

  • We expect that those who cut the line will not

  • be unfairly rewarded.

  • So we're going to offer the following deal: If you've

  • been in America for more than five years;

  • if you have children who are American citizens

  • or legal residents; if you register, pass

  • a criminal background check, and you're willing

  • to pay your fair share of taxes --

  • you'll be able to apply to stay in this

  • country temporarily without fear of deportation.

  • You can come out of the shadows and get right

  • with the law.

  • That's what this deal is.

  • Now, let's be clear about what it isn't.

  • This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this

  • country recently.

  • It does not apply to anyone who might come

  • to America illegally in the future.

  • It does not grant citizenship, or the right

  • to stay here permanently, or offer the same

  • benefits that citizens receive -- only Congress

  • can do that.

  • All we're saying is we're not going to deport you.

  • I know some of the critics of this action

  • call it amnesty.

  • Well, it's not.

  • Amnesty is the immigration system we have today --

  • millions of people who live here without paying

  • their taxes or playing by the rules while

  • politicians use the issue to scare people

  • and whip up votes at election time.

  • That's the real amnesty -- leaving

  • this broken system the way it is.

  • Mass amnesty would be unfair.

  • Mass deportation would be both impossible

  • and contrary to our character.

  • What I'm describing is accountability -- a

  • common-sense, middle-ground approach:

  • If you meet the criteria, you can come out

  • of the shadows and get right with the law.

  • If you're a criminal, you'll be deported.

  • If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally,

  • your chances of getting caught and sent back

  • just went up.

  • The actions I'm taking are not only lawful,

  • they're the kinds of actions taken by every single

  • Republican President and every single Democratic President

  • for the past half century.

  • And to those members of Congress who question my authority

  • to make our immigration system work better,

  • or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress

  • has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.

  • I want to work with both parties to pass

  • a more permanent legislative solution.

  • And the day I sign that bill into law,

  • the actions I take will no longer be necessary.

  • Meanwhile, don't let a disagreement over

  • a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue.

  • That's not how our democracy works,

  • and Congress certainly shouldn't shut down our

  • government again just because we disagree on this.

  • Americans are tired of gridlock.

  • What our country needs from us right now

  • is a common purpose -- a higher purpose.

  • Most Americans support the types of reforms

  • I've talked about tonight.

  • But I understand the disagreements held

  • by many of you at home.

  • Millions of us, myself included, go back generations

  • in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking

  • work to become citizens.

  • So we don't like the notion that anyone might

  • get a free pass to American citizenship.

  • I know some worry immigration will change the very fabric

  • of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class

  • families at a time when they already feel like

  • they've gotten the raw deal for over a decade.

  • I hear these concerns.

  • But that's not what these steps would do.

  • Our history and the facts show that immigrants

  • are a net plus for our economy and our society.

  • And I believe it's important that all of us have this

  • debate without impugning each other's character.

  • Because for all the back and forth of Washington,

  • we have to remember that this debate

  • is about something bigger.

  • It's about who we are as a country,

  • and who we want to be for future generations.

  • Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system

  • where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds

  • never have a chance to get right with the law?

  • Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends,

  • take responsibility, and give their kids

  • a better future?

  • Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty

  • of ripping children from their parents' arms?

  • Or are we a nation that values families,

  • and works together to keep them together?

  • Are we a nation that educates the world's best

  • and brightest in our universities, only to send

  • them home to create businesses in countries

  • that compete against us?

  • Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay

  • and create jobs here, create businesses here,

  • create industries right here in America?

  • That's what this debate is all about.

  • We need more than politics as usual when

  • it comes to immigration.

  • We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate

  • that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

  • I know the politics of this issue are tough.

  • But let me tell you why I have come to feel

  • so strongly about it.

  • Over the past few years, I have seen the determination

  • of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs

  • without taking a

  • dime from the government, and at risk any moment of losing

  • it all, just to build a better life for their kids.

  • I've seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose

  • mothers might be taken away from them just

  • because they didn't have the right papers.

  • I've seen the courage of students who,

  • except for the circumstances of their birth, are

  • as American as Malia or Sasha; students who

  • bravely come out as undocumented in hopes

  • they could make a difference in the country they love.

  • These people -- our neighbors, our classmates,

  • our friends -- they did not come here

  • in search of a free ride or an easy life.

  • They came to work, and study, and serve in our military,

  • and above all, contribute to America's success.

  • Tomorrow, I'll travel to Las Vegas and meet with

  • some of these students, including a young woman

  • named Astrid Silva.

  • Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old.

  • Her only possessions were a cross, her doll,

  • and the frilly dress she had on.

  • When she started school, she didn't speak any English.