It’s good to be home. My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks. Whether we’ve seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people – in living rooms and schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant outposts – are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going. Every day, I learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.
I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life. It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss. This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged,
and come together to demand it.
After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.
It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.
This is the great gift our Founders gave us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.
For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.
So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.
Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.
If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11…if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.
But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.
In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.
We have what we need to do so. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.
But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.
That’s what I want to focus on tonight – the state of our democracy.
Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.
There have been moments throughout our history that threatened to rupture that solidarity. The beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism – these forces haven’t just tested our security and prosperity, but our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.
In other words, it will determine our future.
Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. Today, the economy is growing again; wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are rising again; poverty is falling again. The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a ten-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.
Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years. And if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.
That, after all, is why we serve – to make people’s lives better, not worse.
But for all the real progress we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind – the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills – convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful – a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.
There are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree that our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.
And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible. We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.
There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.
But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce. And our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.
Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require. But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.
For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.
So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.
None of this is easy. For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.
This trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.
Isn’t that part of what makes politics so dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?
How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating. Because as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.
Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.
It’s that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.
It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.
That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.
Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden. The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.
But protecting our way of life requires more than our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans. That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.
So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.
Which brings me to my final point – our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.
When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote. When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.
And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.
Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.
In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;” that we should preserve it with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.
We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.
It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.
Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.
Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I’ve mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch, and our wounded warriors walk again.
I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us of our obligations to care for refugees, to work in peace, and above all to look out for each other.
That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change – that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined. I hope yours has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home were there with us in 2004, in 2008, in 2012 – and maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.
You’re not the only ones. Michelle – for the past twenty-five years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You’ve made me proud. You’ve made the country proud.
Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion. You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.
To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son: you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.
To my remarkable staff: For eight years – and for some of you, a whole lot more – I’ve drawn from your energy, and tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: heart, and character, and idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, and start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we’ve done is the thought of all the remarkable things you’ll achieve from here.
And to all of you out there – every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town and kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change – you are the best supporters and organizers anyone could hope for, and I will forever be grateful. Because yes, you changed the world.
That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves. This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic –
I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain. For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.
I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.
I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every
American whose story is not yet written:
Yes We Can.
Yes We Did.
Yes We Can.
Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
President Barack Obama, Farewell Address, January 10, 2017
President Obama made me believe that I could do anything not in spite of my skin color, but because of it. He made me believe in the goodness of America and made me believe in a better future. Voting for him was my first American decision and I will never regret it. For me, that speech was beautiful because it reminded me not to give up despite the next President. It was a rallying cry. #YesWeCan
hey, I don't know if you watched Obama's speech about immigration, but he had a particular line that 'we are a nation of immigrants' and seemed to gloss over indigenous groups. What were your thoughts on that?
We are not a nation of immigrants. Just as you mentioned, there are descendants of indigenous/NDN communities, who are presently subjected to economical, environmental, political, social and cultural driven colonial/settler violence. We are a settler wet dream of pillagers, colonized, kidnapped and imperialized.
- Black Americans are not immigrants, they are the descendants of the largest trafficked population in recorded history that still deal with the ramifications of racial oppression through institutions such as the prison industrial complex and laws that promote racial profiling.
- White Americans are not immigrants, they are the descendants of genocidal settlers who are responsible for the largest case of human trafficking in recorded history, which is a legacy that stains the present.
- Refugees are immigrants and most of them were driven to the US by imperial hegemony/exploitation, poverty, war, dictatorships, etc. We reside on land that is colonized and that history must be respected and acknowledged. However, the conditions that brought us here and the relationship we create with existing oppressed groups residing in the US makes the difference between neutral and violent settler. Meaning, immigrants from third world nations can/should bridge solidarity with indigenous groups, instead of legitimizing/buying into the hyper assimilationist ideal of the “American dream” and creating a hostile dynamic by eroding the fundamental injustice that indigenous (as well as Black American) have endured since inception.
- There are many many more nuances that go into this than just white/black/immigrant, because obviously, identity doesn’t work that way, but for time’s sake, I’ll delve into deeper context another time.
Obama however, doesn’t cater to a group of folks that require or even care for this nuance. Its easier to just level the playing field and refer to everyone as an “immigrant”, thus satiating whiteness, negating the existence of NDN communities, delegitimizing the everlasting presence of antiblackness this nation has and continues to thrive on and ignoring the very actions he innately endorses everyday that drives people off from their homelands.
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Las Vegas! (Applause.) Good to see you again – you were here two years ago. (Applause.) It’s good to be back at Del Sol High School –- go Dragons! (Applause.)
Let me just say that whenever I fly to Vegas on Air Force One, the plane is a little more crowded. (Laughter.) For some reason, folks want to come to Vegas. But today it was also crowded with a whole bunch of people who have been passionate about making sure America always remains a nation of immigrants, including your Senator, Harry Reid; the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi; some extraordinary members of Congress who have been leading on immigration reform – they are doing unbelievable work, and I want to just name a couple of them – and if I forget somebody, make sure I don’t get into trouble – from left to right, we’ve got Xavier Becerra, Ben Lujan, Luis Gutierrez, Dina Titus, Steve Horsford, and Bob Menendez. (Applause.) We’ve got the son-in-law of Cesar Chavez and a hero to farmworkers in his own right, Arturo Rodriguez. (Applause.)
And I just want to – and since we’re on farmworkers, a legend, somebody who has just been a great friend to working people all across the country, Dolores Huerta. Love you. (Applause.)
I’m so inspired by the introduction by Astrid. Last night, I spoke directly to the American people about immigration, and you heard me talk about Astrid. And if you watched her introduction just now, you heard her talk a little bit about herself.
She was brought here as a little girl, and grew up believing in America and in her identity as an American, just like Malia or Sasha. And then as she grew up, she found out that she was undocumented, which meant she couldn’t do all the things her friends could do. She feared that she and her brother could be separated from their dad. And then one day, she decided to start advocating for her fellow DREAMers, and to stand up for her family, and to fight to make a difference in this country that she loves.
And part of what makes America exceptional is that we welcome exceptional people like Astrid. (Applause.) It makes us stronger. It makes us vibrant and dynamic. It makes us hopeful. We are a nation of immigrants, and that means that we’re constantly being replenished with strivers who believe in the American Dream. And it gives us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It makes us entrepreneurial. It continues the promise that here in America, you can make it if you try, regardless of where you come from, regardless of the circumstances of your birth.
Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time – and everybody knows it. As Americans, we believe in fairness –- the idea that if we work hard and play by the rules, we can get ahead. But too often, the immigration system feels fundamentally unfair. You’ve got families who try to come here the right way but sometimes get separated, or stuck in line for years. You’ve got business owners who are doing the right thing by their workers, offering good wages and benefits, and then you’ve got companies that are ignoring minimum wage laws or overtime laws, taking advantage of undocumented immigrants, and as a consequence, undercutting the employers who are doing the right thing.
All of us take offense to the idea that anybody can reap the rewards of living in America without its responsibilities. And folks like Astrid and Astrid’s parents, who desperately want to make amends, embrace the responsibilities of living here – they’re forced to either live in the shadows or risk having their families torn apart.
We’ve known about this for years. And we’ve known we can do better. And for years, we haven’t done much about it. Well, today, we’re doing something about it. (Applause.)
Now, when I took office, I committed to fixing this broken system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders, because I do believe in secure borders. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Don’t let all the rhetoric fool you. There was a brief spike this summer in unaccompanied children being apprehended at the border, but it was temporary, and the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s, when I was in high school – and I’ve got gray hair now. (Laughter.) So it’s been a long time.
And nearly two years ago, I came here, Del Sol High School, right in this gymnasium – (applause) – and I said that the time had come for Congress to fix our broken immigration system. And I laid out some basic principles for reform that a lot of different parties could agree on. And what was remarkable was the consensus that started to develop. We had business leaders and labor leaders, and evangelical leaders, and law enforcement leaders; we had Republicans and we had Democrats and independents – and they all said that, yes, we should secure our borders, we should bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century, and then, once and for all, we should give the 11 million people living in the shadows a chance to make amends and earn their citizenship the right way.
So those were our principles. We laid them out. We were very clear. (Applause.) And after I laid out those principles, we then went to work with Congress. And we started in the Senate. And you ended up with a big majority of Democrats and Republicans and independents all coming together in the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill based on these principles.
The Senate bill wasn’t perfect; it was a compromise. That’s how things work in Congress. That’s how things work in a democracy. Not everybody was satisfied with every provision, but it was a good, solid, common-sense bill that would have made our immigration system a lot better.
It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents. So for those who wanted more border security, that was in the bill. It would have made the legal immigration system smarter and fairer. It would have given the opportunity for young people who are talented and who have gotten a degree – maybe in computer science or some technical field – to stay here and work, and contribute, and create a business, and create more jobs.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. President!
THE PRESIDENT: You’re welcome. (Applause.) And it would have given millions of people that chance to get right with the law. But it wasn’t just a gift – they would have had to pay a fine. They would have had to learn English. They would have had to get to the back of the line. They would have had to pay back taxes.
It was a sensible bill, and all these members of Congress, they worked on it and were supportive of it. And independent experts – not me – people who analyze the economy for a living, they said that over two decades, the new law would grow our economy, shrink our deficits. In other words, it would help to solve some big problems in a bipartisan way. And nobody was happier than me. And when it passed the Senate, we said, all right, let’s send it over to the House, we’ve got the votes in the House. We’ve got Democrats and Republicans who were prepared to vote for it in the House. (Applause.)
It has now been 512 days – a year and a half – in which the only thing standing in the way of that bipartisan bill and my desk so that I can sign that bill, the only thing that’s been standing in the way is a simple yes-or-not vote in the House of Representatives. Just a yes-or-no vote. If they had allowed a vote on that kind of bill, it would have passed. I would have signed it. It would be the law right now.
These leaders right here tried to make it happen. Nancy Pelosi kept on saying to John Boehner, let’s just call the bill, see where it goes. There are Republicans who worked hard on this bill too, and they deserve credit. Because even though it wasn’t necessarily popular in their party, they knew it was the right thing to do.
But despite that, the party leadership in the House of Representatives would not let it come forward. And I cajoled and I called and I met. I told John Boehner, I’ll wash your car, I’ll walk your dog – (laughter) – whatever you need to do, just call the bill. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. And if the votes hadn’t been there, then we would have had to start over. But at least give it a shot – and he didn’t do it.
And the fact that a year and a half has gone by means that time has been wasted. And during that time, families have been separated. And during that time, businesses have been harmed. And we can’t afford it anymore.
Las Vegas, I have come back to Del Sol to tell you I’m not giving up. I will never give up. I will never give up. (Applause.) I will not give up.
AUDIENCE: Si se puede! Si se puede! Si se puede!
THE PRESIDENT: So we’re not giving up. We’re going to keep on working with members of Congress to make permanent reform a reality. But until that day comes, there are actions that I have the legal authority to take that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just. And this morning, I began to take some of those actions. (Applause.)
So I talked about – I thought – I talked about what I could do based on talking to all the legal experts, talking to the Office of Legal Counsel. And not everything that we want to do we can do, but they told me what we could do. And I wasn’t going to sit idly by and not do at least what I was authorized to do.
So first, we’re providing more resources to law enforcement so they can stem the flow of illegal crossings at our border and speed up the return of those who do cross over. I want to repeat that – border security is important.
Second, we’re making it easier for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy. (Applause.)
Third, we’re going to take steps to deal responsibly with millions of undocumented immigrants who are already here. (Applause.) Now, as I did last night, I want to spend some extra time talking about the third step, because this is the one that brings up the strongest passions on both sides.
The truth is, undocumented workers broke our immigration laws. They didn’t follow the rules in terms of how they were supposed to come. And I believe they should be held accountable. And some have proven to break other laws. Some are dangerous. That’s why over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’ll keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. But that means felons, not families. That means criminals, not children. It means gang members, not moms who are trying to put food on their – on the table for their kids. (Applause.)
So essentially what we’re doing is what law enforcement does every day. We’ve got limited resources, and so we’re going to prioritize who are the folks who should be subject to removal, and that means that we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got clear rules in terms of how we’re enforcing the law.
But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants, they live here. And many of them have been here a very long time. And they’re found in every state, and they’re of every race and every nationality. I know a lot of people focus on the Latino community, but the truth is that –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: – does not qualify!
THE PRESIDENT: – the truth is that they’re not just –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
AUDIENCE: Si se puede! Si se puede! Si se puede! (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right, not everybody will qualify under this provision. That’s the truth. And – that’s the truth. That’s why we’re still going to have to pass a bill. That’s why we’re still going to have to pass a bill. (Applause.)
So listen, I heard you, and what I’m saying is, we’re still going to have to pass a bill. This is not – this is a first step. It’s not the only step. We’re still going to have to do more work. (Applause.) So let – I’ve heard you. I’ve heard you, young man. I’ve heard you, and I understand. I’ve heard you. But what I’m saying is, this is just a first step. So, young man, I’m talking to a lot of people here. I’ve been respectful to you, I want you to be respectful to me, all right? Okay. (Applause.)
Now, understand that not everybody who comes here is Latino. Sometimes that’s the face of immigration. Let me tell you, I’m from Chicago. (Applause.) And we’ve got some Irish immigrants whose papers aren’t in order. We’ve got some Polish immigrants whose papers are not in order. We’ve got some Ukrainian folks. Down in Florida we’ve got some Haitian folks. This is not just a Latino issue, this is an American issue. (Applause.) This is an American issue.
And what we have to do is be honest – that tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people is not realistic. That’s not who we are. Most undocumented immigrants are good, decent people. They have been here for a long time. (Applause.) They work, often in the toughest, most low-paying jobs. They’re trying hard to support their families. They worship at our churches. Their kids go to school with our kids. (Applause.)
So the fact is that – even Republicans who say that they don’t want to pass this bill that was passed by these legislators, they’re not serious about trying to deport 10, 11 million people. That’s all rhetoric. Now, what we do expect is that people who are here play by the rules. You shouldn’t get rewarded for cutting in line.
So we’ve offered the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law. (Applause.)
Now, let’s be clear on what this deal is, and what it isn’t. This action doesn’t apply to anybody who has come to this country recently. You can’t show up for a week and then suddenly apply – you can’t. Because borders mean something. It doesn’t apply to anybody who might come illegally in the future. While I support a path to citizenship – and so do all these legislators here – this action doesn’t grant citizenship, or the right to stay permanently, or receive the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you and separate you from your kids. (Applause.)
Now, if you’ve taken responsibility, you’ve registered, undergone a background check, you’re paying taxes, you’ve been here for five years, you’ve got roots in the community – you’re not going to be deported. And I know some critics call this action amnesty. It’s not amnesty. Amnesty really is the system we’ve got today. You’ve got millions of people who are living here, but they’re not obliged to pay their taxes or play by the rules, and then politicians just use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.
So they want to keep the system as is – people living in the shadows, maybe providing cheap labor, not subject to any worker protections, and then you pretend like you’re being tough on immigration. That’s not the right way to do it. That’s the real amnesty, just talking, leaving the broken system the way it is.
The bottom line is, mass amnesty would be unfair. But mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our country’s character. That’s not who we are. That’s not who we are. (Applause.)
So what we are offering is accountability. It is accountability. It’s a common-sense, middle-ground approach. If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows, you can get right with the law. If you are a criminal, you’re going to be deported. If you plan to enter the United States illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back are going up.
And for those who don’t qualify under this rule, we’re still going to need legislation. But the actions I’ve taken are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every Republican President and every Democratic President for the past half century. (Applause.) Ronald Reagan took action to keep families together. The first President Bush took action to shield about 40 percent of undocumented immigrants at the time. This isn’t something I’m doing as if it’s never been done. This kind of thing has been done before.
So when members of Congress question my authority to make our immigration system work better, I have a simple answer: Pass a bill. (Applause.) Pass a bill. Nobody is stopping them from passing a bill. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Pass a bill! Pass a bill! Pass a bill!
THE PRESIDENT: I mean, I got to admit, these days I don’t always listen to all the commentary – (laughter) – but I understand that some of them are already saying that my actions “sabotage” their ability to pass a bill and make immigration work better. Why? I didn’t dissolve parliament. That’s not how our system works. (Laughter.) I didn’t steal away the various clerks in the Senate and the House who manage bills. They can still pass a bill. I don’t have a vote in Congress – pass a bill. You don’t need me to call a vote to pass a bill. Pass a bill.
Because the actions I’ve taken are only a temporary first step. I don’t have the authority to do some really important reforms. We should be creating new programs for farmworkers. We should be adding visas for the high-tech sector. We should be creating a pathway to citizenship. But only Congress can do that.
The House could still pass the bipartisan Senate bill before the end of the year. (Applause.) They still have time. They’ve still got – what are you guys schedule to be in for, another four weeks. Right after Thanksgiving call the bill. It’s been sitting there. And if they don’t want to pass that bill, then I pledge to work with Republicans and Democrats next year to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, then the actions that I’ve taken will no longer be necessary. And I’ll give everybody credit. I’ll be happy to have John Boehner and Mitch McConnell alongside Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Luis Gutierrez and Bob Menendez and all these folks – we’ll all have a nice signing ceremony.
So I just want to emphasize this issue. Because I hear some people say, well, we’re in favor of immigration reform, but we don’t think that it should be done without Congress. Well, Congress, go ahead and do it.
And meanwhile, Washington should not let disagreements over one issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works. Congress certainly should not shut down the government again over this. Because Americans are tired of gridlock. We are ready to move forward. And we don’t want to – and we just want sensible, common-sense approaches to problems.
Now, this debate deserves more than the usual politics, because for all the back and forth in Washington, as I said last night, this is about something bigger. This is about who we are. Who do we want to be?
America is not a nation that accepts the hypocrisy of workers who mow our lawns, make our beds, clean out bedpans, with no chance ever to get right with the law. We’re a nation that gives people a chance to take responsibility and make amends, and then create a better future for their kids.
America is not a nation that should be tolerating the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms. We’re a nation that values families, and we should work together to keep them together. (Applause.)
America attracts talent from all around the world. We educate the world’s young people in our universities, and then we just send them home, even if they’re wanting to start a business or they’ve got some specialized skill. We just send them home, and then they compete against us. We should be encouraging the best and the brightest to study here and stay here, and invest here, and create jobs here and businesses here, and industries here. You look at Silicon Valley – 30, 40 percent of the companies that we now take for granted that have changed our lives, they were started by immigrants. (Applause.)
So that’s what this issue is all about. And that’s why it deserves reasoned and thoughtful and compassionate debate. And that’s why we have to focus not on our fears, we’ve got focus on our hopes.
You know, every day we receive thousands, tens of thousands of letters and emails at the White House. And as you can imagine, for the past few days, a lot of them have been about immigration. They’ve come from good, decent people on both sides of this debate. And I want to – I want everybody here to understand, there are folks who are good, decent people who are worried about immigration. They’re worried that it changes the fabric of our country. They’re worried about whether immigrants take jobs from hardworking Americans. And they’re worried because they’re feeling a lot of economic stress, and they feel as if maybe they’re the ones paying taxes and nobody else is taking responsibility. So they’ve urged me not to act.
And I hear them. And I understand them. But you know, I’ve also got a lot of letters and emails reminding me why we had to act – from American family members of hardworking immigrants who feared their families could be torn apart; from DREAMers who had proudly stepped out of the shadows and were willing to live without fear, even though it was a big risk for them; from Republicans who don’t agree with me on everything, but are tired of their party refusing to vote on reform.
One Republican who wrote me said this – he said he supported my decision, and he said – and I’m quoting – “I believe that a human being, created in the very image of Almighty God, is the greatest resource that we have in this country.” (Applause.)
We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American Dream. We’re a nation that finds a way to welcome them. We make them earn it, but we welcome them in as fellow human beings, fellow children of God. And we harness their talents to make the future brighter for everybody.
We didn’t raise the Statue of Liberty with her back to the world, we did it with her light shining as a beacon to the world. And whether we were Irish or Italians or Germans crossing the Atlantic, or Japanese or Chinese crossing the Pacific; whether we crossed the Rio Grande or flew here from all over the world – generations of immigrants have made this country into what it is. It’s what makes us special. (Applause.)
And whether we fled famine, or war, or persecution; whether we had the right documents, or connections, or skills; whether we were wealthy or poor – we all shared one thing, and that was hope that America would be the place where we could finally build a better life for ourselves and for our children, and for future generations. Hope that America is the place where we could make it.
That’s what makes us Americans. It’s not what we look like. It’s not what our last name is. It’s not where we come from. It’s not how we pray. What makes us American is a shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal, all of us have a chance to make our lives what we will.
For generations, America – by choice and Americans by birth have come together to renew that common creed and move this country forward that brought us to this moment. That is the legacy that we now have to deliver to the next generation.
Thank you, Nevada. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
A transcript of President Obama’s address on immigration.
A transcript of President Obama’s remarks on immigration, as prepared for delivery.
My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.
For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.
But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.
Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.
It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.
When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.
Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.
Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.
Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.
Tonight, I am announcing those actions.
First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.
Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.
Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.
I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.
But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants – in every state, of every race and nationality – will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.
As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.”
Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.
I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.
That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.
The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.
Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.
Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.
Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?
Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?
Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?
That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.
I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.
Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.
Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?
Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.
That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.
President Barack Obama will finally be making public tomorrow night what his plan is to overhaul immigration. However, while his primetime speech will postpone part of the 15th annual Latin Grammys, it will not be covered by most of the Big 4 – if any of them.
The administration announced today that POTUS will be speaking live from the White House at 8 PM ET on Thursday. ABC has the fall finale for Grey’s Anatomy on at that time while CBS has ratings powerhouse The Big Bang Theory, NBC has reality show The Biggest Loser and Fox has Bones. As of right now, three of those networks will not see any changes in their November sweep schedules due to the speech.
While Obama’s speech will be seen on their cable news siblings, Fox and NBC are not carrying it live on their broadcast networks tomorrow night. CNN, along with Fox News and MSNBC, will be showing the speech live. A CBS News division spokesperson says the network will also not be showing Obama’s approximately 15-minute address on Thursday night. The broadcast networks were not asked for time by the administration, sources tell me. The time zone difference will see NBC, CBS as well as ABC adding coverage of Obama’s immigration speech to the West Coast versions of their national nightly news shows.