On the heels of his highly anticipated immigration speech at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, President Obama spoke to two of the country's leading Spanish-language television networks about his immediate plan for immigration reform.
In interview with Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart, Obama said he's hopeful an immigration overhaul is something that can get done "certainly this year, and I’d like to see if we can get it done sooner, in the first half of the year if possible."
In a separate interview with Univision, Obama said the bill should make clear that a pathway to citizenship "is real and not just a fantasy for the future." The president also brushed up on his Spanish.
"What we don't want 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," Obama said. ''We want to make sure that we're very clear that this legislation provides a real pathway."
As for those like Leticia, an undocumented mother of three who was in attendance at the president's speech in Las Vegas and asked about getting the same relief as DREAMers (work permits and protection from deportation), Obama said he's not king.
"My job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law," the president said. "When it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws, we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law."
Diaz-Balart went on to grill the president about the record number of deportations in his term (about 400,000). President Obama defending himself by saying Congress gives him orders that need to be carried out.
"I make no apologies for us enforcing the law as well as the work that we’ve done to strengthen border security," Obama said. "As a consequence we’ve actually seen an 80% drop in illegal crossings. And what we’ve seen is is that the people who are being deported, the vast majority of them now are criminals. That did not used to be the case. But there’re still obviously gonna be people who get caught up in the system."
As for the immigration reform principles Obama laid out on Tuesday, which states undocumented people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for Obamacare, the president explained they'd have to pay out of pocket to participate.
"One of the things I used to tell immigrant rights advocates was the way to change Congress is to show the power of the ballot," Obama told Telemundo. "The Latino community turned out in record numbers and it’s made a difference. And because of that I think we have a better chance now than we’ve had at any time since I’ve been president.