Barack Obama photo

Interview With Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo on Univision Radio Network's "Piolin pr la Manana"

October 25, 2010

SOTELO: Thank you for coming, Mr. President.

[Audio of Pres. Obama's various remarks rolls]

THE PRESIDENT: It is great to be here, Piolín. Piolín, that was an unbelievable introduction. Thank you so much.

SOTELO: Thank you for making the time to be with us.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you remember the last time I was in the studio, I promised that....

...I would come back as President of the United States and so even though it took a few years, I'm keeping my promise.

SOTELO: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's great to be back.

SOTELO: I thank you for that.


SOTELO: I know you are a man that keeps the promise and you make it happen, so we're gonna start, Mr. President. I'm gonna give you the option, you know, which topic would you like me to begin with.

THE PRESIDENT: We can talk about anything you want, Piolín.

SOTELO: I'm gonna give you options. Multiple choice. Are you ready?


SOTELO: A.) Immigration reform B.) Immigration reform, C.) Immigration reform or D.) All of the above.

THE PRESIDENT: I think I'll take D.) All of the above. Absolutely. [laughter]

SOTELO: Many Hispanics feel disappointed with you because comprehensive immigration reform has not been passed. What can you tell them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm disappointed, too. As you heard in the introduction, this is something that I've been committed to for many years. I committed to it when I was a U.S. Senator, I committed to it when I was a state senator. It's something that I deeply believe that we've got to solve our immigration problem so that we're both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws so that people can come out of the shadows, that people who are productive and otherwise law-abiding are able to get on a pathway to citizenship. They pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, become part of this beautiful American community of ours. And the fact that we have not got it done is something that frustrates me and I know that it frustrates many people in the community. But I think it's important for people to understand why it hasn't gotten done. In the United States Senate, over the last two years, many Republicans who used to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform, like John McCain, decided not to support it and in the Senate, you've got a rule that says 50 votes is not enough. That you can't just pass a law with 50 or 51 votes, you have to have a super majority of 60 votes. We have the majority of Democrats supporting us, so I could easily get 50 votes, Democratic votes, but I'd need some help from our Republican friends. And what happened was we still have 11 Republicans in the United States Senate who voted for Comprehensive Immigration Reform four years ago, but now are not willing to step up. And so the problem that we have is, is that until I can get some cooperation from the other side, then people who are anti-immigration reform can continue to block it. And that's why this election coming up is so important because we essentially have to say that those who are politicizing the issue, who are supportive of the Arizona law, who talk only about border security but aren't willing to talk about the other aspects of this, who don't support the Dream Act, who are out there engaging in rhetoric that is divisive and damaging that -- those aren't the kinds of folks who represent our core American values.

SOTELO: But Mr. President, you were able to pass a healthcare plan and you worked a lot for that. And most of my listeners, they haven't seen that, the same way that you worked for healthcare for immigration reform. The same effort.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's the difference, Piolín. First of all, on immigration reform, I can't get 100 percent of Democrats. I can get 90 percent of Democrats, but I can't get 100 percent. So with healthcare reform, we were just, like, a vote short, just one vote, and so if we've worked so hard, we could finally tip it over the edge. Right now on immigration reform, we're eight votes short or 10 votes short, so we have do the work behind the scenes to build the groundswell of support that can get us then over the finish line. What I don't wanna do is start this thing like we did several years ago and then it just collapses because if you start it and you don't finish it, then people say, well, this can't be done and four years from now, five years from now, we'll still be talking about immigration reform. What we're trying to do is to build a consensus in the country that says, this is the right thing to do, that we've got some bipartisan support. I've met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus many times, I've met with immigration rights groups many times. I have not backed off of this issue. Just a few months ago, I gave a speech outlining very clearly my support for comprehensive immigration reform. My cabinet has been working very hard on trying to get it done, but ultimately, I think somebody said the other day, I am president, I am not king. I can't do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the Executive Branch to make it happen. I'm committed to making it happen, but I've gotta have some partners to do it.

SOTELO: Yes. And that's why last year, I put together a group of well-respected leaders to help you, but I never heard back from your office.

THE PRESIDENT: Ah, but Piolín, look, the truth of the matter is -- here's the question that I think all your listeners have to ask themselves. If the vast majority of Democrats support this issue, if I as the President support this issue, if we've been willing to speak out on this issue forcefully and we have the other party, which not only is not supporting it, but actually doing things that are damaging to the Latino community, then the question I have is why are we spending time talking about us instead of spending time focusing on getting Republicans to do what is right? Because I'm not asking for 100 percent support from Republicans, I'm not asking even for 50 percent support from Republicans. I just want a little bit of support so that I can actually get this thing passed. Now, the fact of the matter is, is that we have worked this issue hard; we will continue to work this hard. I'm only in the first two years of my presidency and, by the way, I had a huge economic crisis. The issues like healthcare reform that we worked on are hugely important to the Latino community. By far, Hispanics are the most likely to work and not have health insurance. The issues of the economy hugely affect the Hispanic community. A lot of them were in construction and when the housing market collapsed, that meant a lot of people were laid off. So it's not as if the issues that we're working on are issues that aren't important to the Latino community. They're very important. Immigration reform is one of those issues we're gonna get it done, but I'm gonna continue to need some help from the other side.

SOTELO: When is it going to happen? You will tell me after this.

[commercial break]

THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna see how well we do in this election and I think a lot of it is gonna depend on whether we still have some support not only from Democrats, but also Republicans, but they're gonna be paying attention to this election. And if Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, we're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us, if they don't see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it's gonna be harder and that's why I think it's so important that people focus on voting on November 2.

SOTELO: But how can you ask for their vote now... if, like... most of my listeners, that's what they see ... that you haven't worked that hard to make comprehensive immigration reform now.

THE PRESIDENT: Piolín, I completely disagree with you on this. With all due respect, even though I'm in your studio. The notion that we haven't worked it hard is just not true. There is a notion that somehow if I had worked it hard enough, we could have magically done it. That's just not the way our system works. If I need 60 votes to get this done, then I'm gonna have to have some support from the other side. If the Latino community decides to sit out this election, then there will be fewer votes and it will be less likely to get done. And the other side, which is fighting against this, is not gonna support it, so look, let me say this as an African American. We worked for decades on civil rights. Civil rights didn't come after one year. It didn't come after two years. People had to march, they had to have their heads beaten, they had fire hoses put on them. Even after Dr. King gave his I Have a Dream Speech, it still took years before African Americans achieved full citizenship in this country. Change isn't easy. It doesn't happen overnight. Now, you know, for us to say, oh, it didn't happen right away and so we're just giving up and we're not gonna be involved in the system, that makes no sense. That's not the history of this country. That's not the history of change in our own lives. All of us, you included Piolín, have gone through hardships, you've had your struggles and what happens is, is that you keep on working and you keep on working and you keep on working and finally, eventually you make a breakthrough and you get things done. That's how change happens for us personally, that's how change happens in the country, so instead of us giving up, we just have to keep working until it gets done.

SOTELO: Well, yeah, we're gonna keep working.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

SOTELO: But I would like to find out the steps that we need to take, Mr. President, so we can help you to make this happen.

THE PRESIDENT: Look, the steps are very clear. Pressure has to be put on the Republican Party.


THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me give you a very specific example. Right now, Nevada, you've got a majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, who's running against a woman named Sharron Angle who is completely opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. Now, you've got a Republican Latino ad that's being run saying to Latinos, don't vote. It's a cynical attempt to discourage Latinos from voting so that Harry Reid, who supports comprehensive immigration reform, would lose because the Latino vote doesn't come out. The woman who's running against him, who opposes comprehensive immigration reform, would win and we would be in much worse shape. It would -- we'd be farther away from achieving it, so a very specific example is making sure that you support the person who supports comprehensive immigration reform and Latinos in Nevada turn up. And that's true all across the country. I mean, the -- there is no place in the country where the Latino vote doesn't matter and even if Latinos are gonna support Republicans, they should say to the Republican candidate, the price of our support is you publicly saying that you're gonna support comprehensive immigration reform because I've already said that, Harry Reid has already said that, Democrats are already on record as saying it. If I can get the votes, I'd sign the bill tomorrow. So you have to put the same pressure on those who have not yet been willing to publicly commit to comprehensive immigration reform and if they don't publicly commit, then you've gotta vote against them.

SOTELO: Believe me, we will.


SOTELO: Under your administration, Mr. President, almost half a million immigrants have been deported, more than any other president. I want to be clear that I'm talking about immigrant families that are hard working, are learning the English language and are helping our economy. What can your administration do to stop deportations now?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the main thing we have to do to stop deportations is to change the laws. What my administration has done is actually change our priorities because you mentioned that there are a lot of families out there, but the truth is, it's actually that the way we're now enforcing the law puts less emphasis on families, more emphasis on those with criminal records and so the big increase in deportations has actually to do with people with criminal records who've been engaging in illegal activity, not just because they don't have papers, but because they've been engaging in criminal activity. But the most important thing that we can do is to change the law because the way the system works -- again, I just wanna repeat, I'm president, I'm not king. If Congress has laws on the books that says that people who are here who are not documented have to be deported, then I can exercise some flexibility in terms of where we deploy our resources, to focus on people who are really causing problems as a opposed to families who are just trying to work and support themselves. But there's a limit to the discretion that I can show because I am obliged to execute the law. That's what the Executive Branch means. I can't just make the laws up by myself. So the most important thing that we can do is focus on changing the underlying laws. That requires Congress to cooperate. As I've said before, I've got the majority of Democrats who are ready to make those changes, but we are gonna need some help from the other side and that's where our focus has to be.

SOTELO: Mr. President, would you try to approve the Dream Act in Congress after the election and before next year?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I'm a big supporter of the Dream Act. I've spoken about it many times. I used to be a sponsor of the bill when I was in the Senate. What I wanna do is I wanna consult with immigrant rights groups and with the Congressional Hispanic Caucuses to make a strategic decision. It may be that we can pass the Dream Act without comprehensive immigration reform. The only thing I'm concerned about is if we just take that small piece, then maybe it becomes harder for us to get the whole thing and so I would love to see the Dream Act passed right away, but I think it's very important for us to have a discussion within the community. If we think realistically that's the only thing that we could get done, then we may make that judgment, but I'm still holding out right now to see if we can get the Dream Act passed and AgJobs passed as part of a broader package so that we allow the 10 to 12 million people who are still living in the shadows to come out and not live in fear. Look, obviously, the Dream Act would be better than nothing and that's something that I think we're gonna have to judge. But I don't wanna make that decision by myself. I wanna be in a discussion with the community and we're not gonna know until after this election. So, so much depends on what do things look like after the election.

SOTELO: So you'll give me a call?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I will be happy to give you a call, Piolín, the -- I'm not sure that -- I'm not sure that we're gonna know the day after the election, but I think that we are gonna be able to have a better sense of how many votes we've got for comprehensive immigration reform, how many votes do we have for the Dream Act. You know, sitting down with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I think we'll have a strategy and we'll certainly let your listeners know.

SOTELO: What can you tell the 50 million people that don't have a job right now, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: It's gonna take time for us to rebuild this economy after taking such a bad blow. Keep in mind what happened. We went through the worst crisis since the Great Depression, since the 1930s and so what happened was that the housing market collapsed, businesses shrank, banks weren't lending and we lost four million jobs before I was even sworn in. We lost almost another four million jobs in the first three months that I was sworn in. We lost eight million jobs before any of my economic plans had a chance to take effect. Now, we've worked very hard over the last two years to help to rebuild and stabilize the housing market, to put people back to work building roads and bridges and our infrastructure, saving jobs of teachers who were threatened to be laid off and now we have an economy that's growing again and we've seen in the private sector job growth for the last nine months. All that is important, but we have a long way to go and the key now is to help small business get loans so that they can keep their doors open and hire more workers and that's especially important in the Latino community because Latino community's an entrepreneurial community. People like to start a business and they've gotta get financing and we've been putting a lot of emphasis on that. We've gotta make sure that we keep on building our infrastructure. A lot of Latino workers who are in construction, they could also be working to help to build new airport runways, new school construction, so getting projects going that can put people back to work right away, that's something that we've proposed. But it's gonna take a few more years. When you fall into such a deep hole, it takes time for you to climb back out. That's what we're doing right now. I feel confident that we're moving in the right direction. The one thing that we can't do is go back to the same policies that the Republicans had in place that resulted in this disaster in the first place.

SOTELO: I agree, Mr. President. We understand that, you know, you've been working a lot and you can count on us, you know, to help you so we can become, you know, united and together move forward in this beautiful country. And that's why we have a gift for you.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, this is beautiful. The -- for those of you who are just listening, this is a -- just a beautiful picture. Piolín read what it says on there. I've gotta take a look at it.

SOTELO: I want you to read it, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay. It says...

SOTELO: It's a drawing.

THE PRESIDENT: It's a beautiful drawing with beautiful kids and a dove at the top and it quotes a passage of scripture from Joshua. It says, "Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous, do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." I will treasure this always. This is just a beautiful gift and this will have a beautiful place in the White House for me to put this up.

SOTELO: I know, Mr. President, that it hasn't been easy for you.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, let me say this, Piolín. You know, 'cause a lot of people say this to me, they say, oh, you know, you have a really hard job. You know, you have all these problems, everybody expects you to solve them right away, people are criticizing you and I say, you know what? The problems that I have are not nothing compared to the problems that people have every day if their losing their job, they may lose their mortgage, they're trying to figure out how to finance their kids' college education. This is a great privilege for me to be president and to be able to help people as much as I can and I get frustrated that we're not moving as quickly as I'd like. I'm not getting as much cooperation sometimes as I want in Congress, but I feel confident that we're making progress. I'll just give you one example. You know, we were able, because of the work that we did, to change how we finance the Student Loan Program to take tens of billions of dollars that used to go to the banks that are now going to Pell Grants and student loans. Millions of children, a lot of young Latino students, are now getting scholarships and grants that didn't get it before and are able to aspire to college. When you get something like that done, you feel good in the morning when you wake up because you know, okay, I still have a long check list of things I have to do, but at least we're making a difference right now.

SOTELO: I'm gonna tell you, Mr. President, that we're inviting my listeners to vote in this election. We're gonna make a difference again because we did it on the last election.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

SOTELO: You know that?

THE PRESIDENT: Listen, the -- you did a great job and this is such a popular show and I think people are so inspired by your story, I am inspired by your story, so I just want everybody who's listening to remember that just as you were able to rise up and become incredible success, just as I, somebody from modest means, was able to become president, everyone of your listeners can succeed. You've got a president who cares about your success and we're gonna keep on working hard to make sure that everybody is able to live out the American dream.

SOTELO: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: It's great to be here.

SOTELO: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, thank you.

SOTELO: Thank you once again.

THE PRESIDENT: It's great to see you.

SOTELO: And it's great to see you, too. And thank you for keeping the promise that you told us.

THE PRESIDENT: Just as I kept my promise on this, I'm gonna keep my promise on immigration reform. Thank you, guys.

Member of Audience: Thank you, thank you.

SOTELO: With God, anything's possible. Thank you.

Barack Obama, Interview With Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo on Univision Radio Network's "Piolin pr la Manana" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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