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CNN'S AMANPOUR

President Obama Announces His Immigration Reform Plan

Aired January 29, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, Ken Salazar -- he's of, you know, Mexican-American descent, but he points out that his family's been living where he lives for 400 years. So he didn't immigrate anywhere.

(LAUGHTER)

The Irish, who left behind the land of famine, the Germans who fled persecution, the Scandinavians who arrived eager to pioneer out West, the Polish, the Russians, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the West Indians, the huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other, now --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- all those folks, before they were us, they were them.

And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule. But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, their kids went to school here, they did their part to build a nation.

They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies, but they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are, who built this country, hand by hand, brick by brick.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: They all came here knowing that what makes somebody an American is not just blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea that anyone, from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story.

And that's still true today. Just ask Alan Alima (ph). Alan's (ph) here this afternoon. Where's Alan (ph)? He's around here -- there he is, right here. Now -

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- Alan (ph) was born in Mexico.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a child. Growing up, Alan (ph) went to an American school, pledged allegiance to the American flag, felt American in every way, and he was, except for one, on paper.

In high school, Alan watched his friends come of age, driving around town with their new licenses, earning some extra cash from their summer jobs at the mall. He knew he couldn't do those things. But it didn't matter that much. What mattered to Alan was earning an education so he could live up to his God-given potential.

Last year when Alan (ph) heard the news that we were going to offer a chance for folks like him to emerge from the shadows, even if it's just for two years at a time, he was one of the first to sign up. And a few months ago, he was one of the first people in Nevada to get approved.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: In that moment, Alan (ph) said, "I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted."

So today Alan is in his second year at the College of Southern Nevada.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Alan is studying to become a doctor. He hopes to join the Air Force. He's working hard, every single day, to build a better life for himself and his family. And all he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America.

So --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- so in the coming weeks, as the idea of reform becomes more real, and the debate becomes more heated, and there are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart, remember Alan (ph) and all those who share the same hopes and the same dreams.

Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It is about people. It is about men and women and young people, who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story.

And throughout our history, that's only made our nation stronger. And it is how we will make sure that this century is the same as the last, an American century, welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, who is willing to work hard to do it, who is willing to pledge allegiance to our flag. Thank you, God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: So there you have President Obama in Las Vegas, giving his major speech on immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform. It's the first time in five years that a president has now entered the fray to do this in a real way.

And that's because the political landscape has changed here dramatically as was shown in the previous election when President Obama won most of the Latino vote.

But here's the issue: he talked very clearly about what is required and what is needed, comprehensive immigration reform. He talked about the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States who needed a path towards U.S. citizenship and needed to know at the outset when the plans go into effect that that will be possible.

He said in order for that to happen, there also needs to be a proper way of enforcing the U.S. borders of making sure that there's surveillance, of making sure that foreigners who are here don't overextended and outstay their visas.

He also said that obviously while it needs to happen that these 11 million undocumented need to come out of the shadows, as he said, he's prepared them for a long road ahead, because he said they will have to go to the back of the line and wait until those who have come over legally and who want to go through the process legally up to now, they get their first chance.

He also said that beyond the 11 million undocumented people who are here right now, that the legal immigration system in the United States must, quote, "be brought into the 21st century." He said -- and he took these examples -- he said, "Why, if you have a visa and are allowed to stay and become a legal American citizen, why should it take you years and years to bring your family over here?"

He addressed the issue of students, foreign students who are here in universities, learning all sorts of disciplines that are vastly required for the American economy. And he said, "Why is it that we then send you back? We need to have a process whereby we are able to put your talents to use here, those that you have learned here and thus contribute to the U.S. economy."

He started the speech by extolling the virtues of the many, many years of immigration to the United States, people who he said had built up businesses and the economy of this country and had been at the very crux of building up the United States.

He did say that unless Congress puts it plan forward and makes this happen in a timely way, he will then send specific plans to Congress and insist that they are voted on immediately.

The interesting issue is that this, as I say, is a time when the landscape has changed and it looks like, at least in the Senate, both sides of the line, Democrat and Republican, know that this is a time for comprehensive immigration reform.

And when we come back, we will have the personal immigration story, the sort of human dilemma that's occurred in the absence of legislation. We'll be right back after a brief.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. So we've just listened to President Barack Obama deliver a speech on his call for comprehensive immigration reform. He delivered that speech in Las Vegas and he called for several parts of that reform to take place.

First, he said, that the legal system of immigration into this country needs to be brought into the 21st century. He said that it is broken and that it's holding America back from desperately needed progress.

He also addressed the highly emotive issue of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. And he said there must be a path for citizenship for them as well. He coupled that with a call for enforcement of U.S. borders and for strict penalties if businesses or people outstay their visas and don't play by the rules of the game.

This was a very important speech; it's the first time in five years that a president has tried to tackle it. And so if, for the first time, an overhaul now looks possible, although as the president said, it will be long and difficult and emotional debate, what exactly has changed?

Well, the whole political landscape has turned upside down. Listen to the Democratic senator, Robert Menendez. Now he is one of a group of Republican and Democratic senators who've also put forth their plan for immigration reform, closely mirroring what the president said. They did it just today before he did.

But listen to why they say it's time to do it now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D): First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Third, the Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So the politicians, of course, are examining the numbers as well, particularly this one. President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in last year's election. And as the fastest growing voting bloc, they are now key to electing presidents and they've turned away from Republicans because of that party's harsh stance on immigration.

But what these numbers don't explain is the human story, those 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows and in fear, families who've been broken up, lives disrupted, as the Obama administration has deported more than 1.5 million immigrants at a greater rate than any other president.

Today we speak to two of those people, a Hispanic college student -- her name is Viridiana Hernandez, and she's fighting back on immigration rights. She's protesting, even going to jail to try to change the system.

We also talked to Jose Garcia Ramirez Earlier this month he saw his father, Eddie Garcia Amas taken away by ICE. That's America's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. And as we spoke, Jose, who's seen here being interviewed the very day of his father's arrest, they're waiting to hear whether he'll be coming home. And they join me from a studio in Phoenix, Arizona.

Jose, let me start with you. What happened the day they came after your dad? What did you see?

ARMA: On Monday morning, I saw the ICE came and they took my dad when I was trying to go in the -- in the car to -- so he could take me to school. And they just came and got him and when I was trying to say goodbye, they pushed me away.

I was crying when they took him and my sister there and my mom, too, were crying.

AMANPOUR: Do you know what's going to happen to him? Is he going to be deported? Have they told you?

ARMA: No.

AMANPOUR: Did they tell you why they've taken him?

ARMA: No. They didn't say either.

AMANPOUR: Was it scary?

ARMA: To me, it was scary.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about your father. What kind of guy is he?

ARMA: He works a lot. He plays with my sisters. He write us (ph) things. He mostly works because he has to get money to pay -- to pay for the rent of the -- of our apartment.

AMANPOUR: And he's been -- he's been gone now. He's been in detention for about two weeks. What is it like at home without him?

ARMA: At home, my mom prays for him so he would get out of jail because at home, we can't -- my mom doesn't have a job and she can't pay for the rent. So we're trying to get him out.

AMANPOUR: Viri, let me ask you, because I know you lobby on behalf of this family as well.

What is the prognosis for Eddie (ph), Jose's dad?

HERNANDEZ: Well, right now, we're just waiting. He was supposed to be deported this morning at 5:00 am. And we haven't heard any concrete news. But it seems like he wasn't. And it hasn't been confirmed that he hasn't called and ordered a lawyer.

At this point, we're just trying to get his story out and make sure that people know he is a good man, that he has no criminal record, that he should not be detained.

AMANPOUR: What happens to families like Eddie's (ph), people like Jose and his siblings and his mom? Give me a sense of the life that they lead in this limbo.

HERNANDEZ: I mean, they're 6-, 8- and 11-year olds, like they should not be going to -- they should not be here. They should not be exposed to this. And yet they're out there; they're fighting for their dad.

They're trying to get their dad back and -- but at the same time, you have to worry about how am I going to eat the next day, how am I going to - - how are we going to pay the rent, how are we going to do all these things without having that support from the dad, and while thinking the whole time, what if they do deport him?

Like they are from Guatemala, so it's not -- it's not just around the corner. And so if the family separated, they probably will not be reunited for a very long time.

AMANPOUR: Viri, let me ask you about your experience, because you, too, are undocumented. What is it like, living in the shadows in the United States, trying to go to school, trying to work in order to survive and keep body and soul together, and yet knowing that you can't do any of this in the open?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I am undocumented. I was brought here. I came when I was 1 year old to Phoenix, Arizona. I'm 21 years old now. And for a long time, I mean, I was ashamed to say who I was. I was ashamed to say my name. I was ashamed to say my last name, ashamed of saying that I wasn't from here, that I was born somewhere else. And it's the culture.

And then being conditioned to believe that I was less than and less worthy of my classmates and all the other students, despite knowing that I was just as intelligent and just as capable.

Not only that, but in Arizona, that idea that I'm less worthy, it's not in my head. It's an idea that our politicians and our leaders hold true to them. So they make laws that do make us feel less and that do make us seem less worthy.

AMANPOUR: Well, yes, and it's surprising, because you have decided to brave being arrested, brave being known. You went with some friends outside a high school in Arizona and last year you were all arrested.

We have pictures of that. We have pictures of the riot police who were deployed outside that high school. You were, of course, released afterwards. I want to play one of the comments that one of your co- demonstrators said after you all were released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone literally told us, you're getting deported; why are you messing up your life? Why are you screwing up your whole life just for this cause? And we're like, well, this stuff is bigger than ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So you're really taking your future in your hands by coming out, so to speak, right now, and lobbying on behalf of this situation to change.

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I mean, at that point, we realized that it wasn't only our life, but it was our family and our community's life and we decided to step out and stop living in the shadows and stop living in that fear and actually come out and tell their stories because the reason that they step out is because they don't know that when they call undocumented or illegals like they don't look at me.

They don't look at a student who's at Grand Canyon University, who's been educated, who's teaching in a school, who's helping students. They're not looking at that. And so I want to show them that this is who I am and this is my story.

AMANPOUR: Jose, what are those pictures that you're holding there?

ARMA: These pictures are from when we -- when we were with my dad. And this one is when my dad was taking us to school so they could graduate, my sisters.

AMANPOUR: You must miss him.

I know it's tough. I know it's tough, Jose.

HERNANDEZ: I mean we've been targeted in Arizona. We are being targeted. And so it's not any more fear than I've had before. I've lived with fear my whole life and they're doing this to us. They're doing this to our families and that we don't know about it.

And so with me coming out, I know that we're at least exposing these situations.

AMANPOUR: The president today has launched his renewed drive for immigration reform. As you know, in the Senate, they've also come up with a proposal.

Do you have hope that this finally will be resolved and that people such as yourself, people such as Jose's dad, if he's not deported, will get this chance to become documented, to become legal citizens of the United States?

HERNANDEZ: Hopefully this time it is real, because, at the same time, while Obama's going to be giving this speech, Eddie (ph) might be getting deported. And so it's an ironic situation right now with that.

AMANPOUR: And, Jose, if you could say anything to your dad right now, what would you say to him?

HERNANDEZ: I would say to him that I miss him. And I'm -- and I'm doing this so I can help him get out of jail. And I don't want him in there no more.

AMANPOUR: You're a brave boy and thank you for coming on our program and we wish you and your dad all the luck in the world.

And, Viri, thank you very much indeed as well. And we'll be following this situation.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: A tragic situation indeed and they are, as I said, waiting to hear what happens to the father, to Eddie (ph). We'll be back after a break with more on President Obama's promises. See you in a moment.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We've been talking about President Barack Obama's immigration speech and the immigrants who've lived here in the shadows while the urgent problem has gone unsolved for so long. Today, the president pledged to finally get this solved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling, where a broad consensus is emerging, and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America. I'm here today because the time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Now is the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And in 90 minutes, I'll return with more on this immigration story and two other important stories. Here's a look at what we'll be covering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Syria, the slaughter goes on and on. A first-hand account of a grieving people, displaced and disowned, inside and outside their country.

And now is the winter of discontent, later, the grim prognosis for the Arab Spring.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible).

END