Barack Obama photo

Interview with Maria Elena Salinas of Univision News

January 30, 2013

Salinas: Thank you Mr. President. You're starting you're second term taking on two very controversial and difficult issues: immigration reform and gun control. You said in your speech in Las Vegas … "the time is now." Gabby Giffords in a very emotional plea in the Senate hearing today on gun control said … "now is the time." Can Congress tackle both issues at the same time? And which one will have priority?

The President: Well, there's no doubt that Congress can tackle both. Because both are important. We have to get comprehensive immigration reform. The system is broken. It's been too long since we reformed the system. And we're starting to see a bipartisan consensus built around this. So we need to take the opportunity and we need to do it fast. I don't want us waiting six months or a year to get this done. And there's no reason why we can't move fairly quickly. As the Senators do their work, start identifying where there's some differences. We can provide some technical assistance.

Salinas: Will one be easier than the other?

The President: Well, my suspicion is we're seeing more bipartisan discussion on the immigration issue, than on the gun issue. But I also think that on the gun issue you're starting to see the gun owners, people who traditionally opposed gun control saying … you know what, when 20 of our children are shot by somebody whose disturbed, and when it's that easy to get these high clip magazines that can fire off hundreds of shots in a few minutes, that it's time for us to do a better job on background checks. To get control of these magazine clips … to really crack down on gun trafficking. And so I'm actually optimistic that we can get both done. Both will end up generating some opposition and some strong opposition. There will be passions on both sides. But I'm generally encouraged that the Senate seems to be having a serious conversation about these issues.

Salinas: You said in your speech that if Congress does not work in a timely manner on immigration reform you will send your own bill. And you will ask them to, in your own words, to vote on it right away. What to you is a timely manner? The Senate is supposed to introduce legislation by March. Is it weeks, is it months? What's a timely manner?

The President: Well, you know if they can get a piece of legislation debated on the floor by March I think that's a good timeline. And I think that can be accomplished. Keep in mind that most of these issues we've done work on already. We have a pretty good sense of the work we've already done on border security. And any additional changes that need to be made. We already know what would be required to earn a legal status and citizenship in terms of paying a fine and learning English. And going through background checks and paying back taxes. So a lot of this work has been done. And in the past has obtained bipartisan support. So we've already drafted a bill.

Salinas: At what point would you intervene though? How much time -- do you have your own timeline as to how much you would give them, before you intervene with your own bill?

The President: Yeah, as I said, if they're on a path as they've already said where they want to get a bill done by March, then I think that's a reasonable timeline. And I think that we can get that done. I'm not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little bit of room to debate. If it slips a week, that's one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that's a problem.

Salinas: Will we have immigration reform by the end of this year?

The President: I believe so.

Salinas: You can tell our audience "¡si se puede!"

The President: "¡Si se puede!" But I want to remind the audience, because Maria Elena we've had this conversation for many, many years. The only way this is going to get done is if the Republicans continue to work with Democrats in Congress in both chambers in order to get a bill to my desk. And I'm going to keep on pushing as hard as I can. I believe that the mood is right. I was very pleased to see the Senators from both the Democratic side and the Republican side come together and put forth principles. Now they've got to fill in the details. But you know, the issue here is going to be political. Look, it's not that we don't know how to do this. It's not that we got technical problems. This is a matter of, as I said in my speech yesterday, us recognizing that comprehensive immigration reform will make our economy stronger. It is true to our traditions. It speaks to our future. It makes sure that young people who are here like the DREAMERs who want to contribute and want to join our military, want to start a business, that they have opportunities. And, you know, if we keep that positive mindset understanding that that is a strength of America that we attract talent from all around the world, then I'm confident that we can get it done.

Salinas: Most people believe that the biggest hurdle will be the path to citizenship. You have clearly said that it mustn't be included from the outset. Senator Marco Rubio says that he will not support a bill that does not put border security ahead of citizenship. Is this going to end up being a battle between you and Marco Rubio?

The President: No, I don't think so. Look, we put border security ahead of pathway to citizenship. We have done more on border security in the last four years than we have done in the previous 20. We've seen a drop in terms of illegal crossings of about 80 percent since 2000. We have made enormous strides, put resources in, we've actually done almost everything that Republicans asked to be done several years ago as a condition to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. Given that that's the case, it's not as if we haven't been attentive to border security and we will continue to be attentive to border security. What we don't want to do is to create some vague prospect in the future that somehow comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will happen, you know, mañana. We want to make sure that we're very clear that this legislation provides a real pathway. Now that pathway will take some time. That even under our proposal, this is not a situation where overnight suddenly people all find themselves as citizens. They're going to have to earn their way to it. And they're going to have to go to the back of the line. We're going to have to clear out the, you know, existing lines, the backlog that we have in terms of legal immigrants. Because they did it the right way. We shouldn't punish them for not breaking the law.

Salinas: Right.

The President: So all those things are going to have to be put in place. But we have to put that in the place at the outset and make sure that people are clear that this pathway is real and not just a fantasy for the future.

Salinas: As you could imagine there are hundreds of questions. The questions that I have gotten on social media since I announced that I would be doing this interview. Millions of people are desperate to hear from you. They want answers. People who voted for you and people who are confident that this year, this time around you will definitely keep your promise. Most cases are very complex. But the most commonly asked question is, for example, one from Jonathan made on Facebook. "Under your plan what would happen to those who already have deportation letters. Also, would parents of U.S. born children who have been deported be able to come back under your plan?"

The President: Well, what I'm going to do is allow the Senate to work on these details. I don't want to, you know, fill in all the blanks. Because otherwise I would have gone ahead and put a bill forward. And then sometimes that creates a dynamic in Congress where if I'm for it, then maybe some people have to be against it. I think these are all legitimate questions. I think that over the next several weeks, these next several months what we'll see is many of these issues will be debated. But the basic principle would be, from my perspective, that somebody who has lived here has been overall a good neighbor … has been somebody who's been law abiding other than the fact that they came here illegally. That have put roots down here. That they should have the capacity to earn citizenship. And we'll have to make a whole range of decisions about individual cases. And we'll have to create a structure to make sure that that works. And as I said, we've got to make sure that we streamline the process for legal immigration because so much of the illegal immigration process has resulted because it's so difficult for many people to reunify with their families, and so forth.

Salinas: Exactly. And there were a lot of questions about that too. Now I know that you have reduced, this is another concern on Twitter, the number of deportations of non-criminals. However, in 2012 more than 184,000 non-criminals were deported. In the spirit of your push for immigration reform, would you consider a moratorium on deportations of non-criminals? Remember, these are your words: "This is not about policy. It's about people."

The President: Well, I think it is important to remind everybody that, as I said I think previously, and I'm not a king. I am the head of the executive branch of government. I'm required to follow the law. And that's what we've done. But what I've also said is, let's make sure that we're applying the law in a way that takes into account people's humanity. That's the reason that we moved forward on deferred action. Within the confines of the law we said, we have some discretion in terms of how we apply this law. The same is true with respect to the kinds of the length of time that people have to spend outside of the country when their spouses are already here for example.

Salinas: Right.

The President: So we're making some changes there. But there are still going to be stories that are heartbreaking. With respect to deportations until we get comprehensive immigration reform. That's one of the reasons I think it's so important for us to go ahead and get this action done. And keep in mind that if we're able to say, at the end of this year, or maybe even before the end of the summer, that we've gotten comprehensive immigration reform done, then that then empowers me to deal with many of these issues in a way that I think, to allow the more specific issues that a lot of people I think would like to see resolved.

Salinas: If you had to choose, what would be the concessions that you would be willing to make on immigration reform? And what would be completely unacceptable to you?

The President: Well, I've been very clear about what my core principles are. I think comprehensive immigration reform has to continue and build on the work we've done to strengthen border security. It has to have provisions to strengthen the legal immigration system. And streamline it and make it easier and faster and fairer for people. And it has to have a pathway to citizenship that is real. And that people can say … "alright, I now know that if I take these steps I have a chance to stay here with my family, do the right thing, and over time, maybe down the road, be able to earn my right to take that oath and make that pledge as an American citizen." And I think, there are going to be a whole range of other issues involved in this. There are going to be some who are arguing for guest worker programs. There are going to be some issues around agricultural jobs that are very important. There are issues surrounding how do we make sure that employers are, you know, have the data that they need to check to see if somebody has a legal employment status. So there are going to be a whole range of issues and people are going to be on various sides of those issues. Let's let these Senators who have taken it upon themselves to negotiate. Let's them negotiate. We will be in consultation with them. If I see something that I think is wrong, I will let them know. But I don't want to prejudge it, since I haven't seen any details from their legislations.

Salinas: Before we run out of time. I have two short questions for you. In putting together your second term in the Cabinet, we noticed that there's less Latinos. Will there be room for Latinos in your new administration? People like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or Mayor Julian Castro?

The President: Well, first of all, we haven't completed the formation of my Cabinet. So I'll let people judge it after all my appointments have been made whether or not we've made progress. One of my highest priorities as an administration, particularly in my second term, because now I'm thinking about legacy, is to make sure that we are identifying talent from every walk of life, from every ethnic group, so that the next President will see how big a pool there is of talent out there, that can serve and wants to serve in a Presidential administration. So we're going to redouble our efforts to recruit talented and gifted Latinos that come from every walk of life. It comes from academia, it comes from elected officials. It comes from foundations and non-for profits. Maybe some will come from the media.

Salinas: How interesting.

The President: And we want to identify as much talent as possible. And you know, obviously the Latino community is growing faster than just about any other community.

Salinas: Right.

The President: And that means that we've got to prepare leadership for the future, not just for today.

Salinas: You mentioned legacy and I will close with this question. You don't have to worry about reelection anymore now. The only thing at stake is your legacy. What do you want or what do you think your legacy will be?

The President: Well, I spoke about my vision at the inauguration. You know, America has everything that it needs to be not just a great country, but a country that is leading the world on so many important issues. But we just have to come together and recognize what is it that is most important to us. What makes us special. And what makes us special more than anything is the fact that we believe in hard work. We believe that if you work hard you should be able to succeed, that you should be able to pay your bills and support a family. So I want to leave behind a legacy where the economy once again works for the middle class and people who are striving to get in the middle class. That kids who want a good education can get a good education. That everybody whose willing to work hard can make it. And the other thing is that it includes everybody. Right? That we're not saying, there's some Americans who make it, but some who don't. There's some who look like this, or some who, you know, had that sexual orientation or some people who had that perspective and somehow they're not as important. You know, what has always been a hallmark of America even when we didn't always live up to the ideal, was this ideal that, you know, we hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are created equal.

Salinas: And I'm sure you want people to remember you as the President that passed immigration reform. Thank you Mr. President.

The President: Absolutely. Thank you so much. That's part of it. Thank you.

Barack Obama, Interview with Maria Elena Salinas of Univision News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives