Remarks on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

John Podesta at the Launch of the Reform Immigration for America Campaign

John Podesta speaks at the Launch of the Reform Immigration for America Campaign, saying, “The time to act is now.”

Center for American Progress President and CEO John D. Podesta joined other leaders from labor, business, African-American, Latino, Asian, and faith communities to participate in a joint press conference that officially launched the Reform Immigration for America campaign. The campaign launch included a weeklong series of events such as a national summit in Washington, D.C. bringing together 700 supporters for reform representing more than 35 states (June 3-5), and a National Town Hall Meeting on Capitol Hill (June 4) on immigration reform. The campaign aims to revamp America’s broken immigration policies and restore the rule of law.

“The time to act is now,” said Podesta at the press conference. “It’s our collective challenge and responsibility to develop and advocate for common-sense immigration reform.”

Watch the event


Remarks from John Podesta

Thank you, Ali [Noorani] for that great introduction. It’s an honor to be included in such an impressive roster of speakers. Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to recognize all of the organizations that have been vital to making this campaign a reality, and who have dedicated their time and their resources to turning Reform Immigration For America into the powerhouse effort that it is today—one that I’m certain will drive progressive change on one of the most pressing issues facing our country today.

There’s no question over the need for immigration reform in the United States. For too long, politicians in Washington have cautiously tip-toed around a system that is broken, unfair, and in urgent need of a comprehensive overhaul. They’ve offered poor excuses and unsound rhetoric. Rather than acknowledging our failed policies and striving for common sense solutions, we saw for years an expansion of expensive, ineffective policies that have divided families, disrupted communities, and deprived all Americans of solutions that served their interests.

Many opponents of reform have balked at proposals to reform the broken system; claiming that at a time when American workers are hurting, the best solution isn’t reform—but deportation, or forcing immigrants to leave by attrition. This argument fails to recognize the critical role that immigrants play in economic growth. From the corner store to the multinational corporation, from lettuce fields to biotech laboratories, and from the lowest paid to the most highly compensated work. Immigrants play an essential role, generating economic activity in local communities, establishing news businesses, offering new products, creating new jobs, and spurring economic growth.

These critics have the economic calculus wrong. What we cannot afford is to deport approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants. Analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that such a policy would cost at least $206 billion over five years, or $41.2 billion annually. By way of comparison, the total budget for the Department of Homeland Security in FY 2008 was $47 billion. We all know it’s not realistic to root out and remove 12 million from our community. Instead we need solutions that restore the rule of law while aiding our economy by making taxpayers of all immigrants. So, to those opponents of reform we say this—immigration reform and economic recovery are not at odds with each other, but rather go hand in hand.

Let there be no doubts—the road to comprehensive reform is long, but I believe President Obama intends to hold true to his promise, to make this issue a priority. At an upcoming White House meeting the President will host a bipartisan meeting with House and Senate members to begin moving on this issue, which is a solid first step.

And the White House isn’t alone in its desire to tackle tough reform. Poll after poll shows that Americans want practical solutions that are tough, but fair. Just a few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a report that showed that 64 percent of Americans favor a way for illegal immigrants to gain legal citizenship.

In other words—we’re ready. And we must move forward with sound, practical solutions that will address our nation’s economic crisis by increasing tax revenues, enforcing labor standards, and lifting wages and leveling the playing field for all workers.

That will require a comprehensive solution. The Center for American Progress will work with our partners to develop and advance an innovative agenda that defends bedrock American values of opportunity, equality, fairness, compassion, and a commitment to the common good. CAP believes in advocating for public policies that require immigrants to register and become legal, pay taxes, learn English, and pass criminal background checks. Only then will we effectively integrate them into the fabric of a better, more progressive America.

As I’ve said before—the time to act is now. It’s our collective challenge and responsibility to develop and advocate for common-sense immigration reform; reform that will ensure fairness and accountability in the labor market, bring our immigration system under control once and for all; establish order at the border; focus law enforcement resources on criminals, not workers and parents; and generate billions in new tax revenues.

In closing, let me say that the solutions we’re working toward must reflect basic American values of fairness and justice. Immigrants are contributing members of our families and our communities—and we must remember that as we work toward forging a nation that’s based on respect, not repression.

Thank you.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.