President Obama: I'm ‘champion-in-chief’ on immigration
By: Reid J. Epstein
March 6, 2014 12:33 PM EST
President Barack Obama called himself the “champion-in-chief” of comprehensive immigration reform Thursday but said once again that there’s nothing he can do stem the flow of deportations.
Speaking at a health care town hall program sponsored by Telemundo, Univision and La Opinion-impreMedia, Obama passed the buck on deportations to Congress, which he said is responsible for funding government positions responsible for deportations.
“I am the champion-in-chief of comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. “What I’ve said in the past remains true: Until Congress passes a new law I am constrained in what I can do.”
Obama said the a 2012 order that allowed so-called Dreamers to remain in the country with a path to legalization was the most he could do on his own.
“That already stretched my administrative capacity very far,” Obama said. “At a certain point, the reason that the deportations are taking place is Congress said you have to enforce these laws.”
Obama, whose administration has made dozens of changes to the health care rules – including on Wednesday allowing people to keep pre-existing subpart insurance plans through 2017, said he does not have sufficient authority to halt deportations.
Pressure on Obama to halt deportations has risen sharply this week. The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy organization, on Tuesday labeled Obama the “deporter-in-chief.” Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) this week also called for Obama to act unilaterally on deportations.
“I cannot ignore those laws anymore than I can ignore any of the other laws on the books,” Obama said.
Hosts Jose Diaz-Balart and Enrique Acevedo pressed Obama on concerns that “mixed status” families have that U.S. citizens who provide personal information required to enroll in Obamacare would lead to the deportation of family members who are undocumented.
“None of the information that is provided in order for you to obtain health insurance is in any way transferred to immigration services,” Obama said.
Obama held the town hall event as part of the White House effort to enroll minorities in Obamacare before the March 31 deadline to acquire health insurance for 2014. Throughout the event, he was faced with skepticism about how much the Latino community can trust his administration on health care when so many are being deported.
“I think the community understands that I’ve got their back and I’m fighting for them,” Obama said. “The main point that I have for everybody watching right now is you don’t punish me for not signing up for health care, you’re punishing yourself or your family.”
Obama, as he often does, blasted Republicans for opposing the health care law without offering any “serious” alternative. But then in the next breath he said all the good health care ideas are already embedded in Obamacare.
“There’s a reason why [Republicans] have never put forward a serious alternative,” Obama said. “The reason is because we have taken the best ideas, conservative ideas and liberal ideas, we’ve put them together and we’re now implementing them.”
And the president reiterated his pitch that health insurance will be subsidized for those who can’t afford it and won’t be a burden for any family.
“The average cost could be much lower than people expect, in many circumstance you may end up paying $100 or less a month to have really good health insurance — for less than it costs you for your cell phone bill or your cable bill,” he added.