Obama scoffs at deportations
By Christina Bellantoni
The Washington Times
April 2, 2008
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama campaigned at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., yesterday, three weeks before the crucial Pennsylvania primary on April 22.
SCRANTON, Pa. Sen. Barack Obama told voters worried about illegal immigration yesterday that deporting 12 million people is not “realistic,” calling it an “honest conversation” during one of his final stops while trying to make inroads with Pennsylvania's blue-collar workers.
A man asked the presidential hopeful what he would do about border security. In his response, Mr. Obama posed the question about what to do with the people here illegally, prompting someone in the audience of his town hall forum to shout “Send them home!”
“We are not going to send them home,” the Illinois Democrat argued. “I want us to have an honest conversation about this.”
Mr. Obama said many illegals have “settled,” “bought property” and have children who are U.S. citizens. He said the country would have to devote “all our law enforcement resources to rounding up people without papers, even if they weren't causing any trouble,” and once that's done, the country would have to “empty out our jails.”
That would force police to ignore killers and carjackers and instead be “worried about the guy in the kitchen somewhere who's working in a restaurant,” he said.
Many in the audience at the Dunmore Community Center cheered his response, and Mr. Obama continued by noting, “Not all of 'em are from Mexico,” because some are from Ireland, Poland or Nigeria.
“Imagine what that would look like, basically detaining, putting in jail 12 million people. We're not going to do that,” he said.
He said instead they should be required to register, pay a fine, pay back taxes and learn English over time to “earn legal status,” drawing loud applause.
The audience reaction shows the divisiveness of the immigration issue even though all three candidates Mr. Obama, his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, agree that most illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and be granted a path to citizenship.
Mr. Obama has claimed a leadership role on the issue as a champion of last year's Senate immigration bill, which was defeated when a bipartisan majority of his colleagues filibustered it.
Mrs. Clinton, also campaigning in Pennsylvania as the two battle for the Democratic nomination, uses a similar line on the campaign trail about the logistical nightmare posed by deportation.
She has said miles of buses would be needed to send 12 million illegals home, and told voters in Iowa and Nevada that meant “basically knocking on every door and saying, 'Show us your papers.' ”
Many Republicans and some conservative Democrats have called for a third option between mass deportations and citizenship rights, arguing that enforcing laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants will dry up their jobs, forcing them to return home on their own. Mr. Obama yesterday said he wants to crack down on such employers.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton spoke about the economy in Pennsylvania, where she leads by double digits, but one new Rasmussen poll in advance of the state's April 22 primary shows he may be closing the gap.
Today is the final day of Mr. Obama's bus tour, a six-day campaign swing aimed at attracting the rural white voters whom he has had the toughest time winning over.
Mrs. Clinton of New York countered the Obama tour with her own pitch to working-class voters, telling AFL-CIO members she is a fighter for the long haul, like the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa. She used the comparison despite the fact that the movie ended with Rocky losing.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.