Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

VIDEO: Obama: 'A lot of folks forget that most of 'us' used to be 'them''

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jan. 29, 2013. Obama hailed a "genuine desire" among warring U.S. politicians to pursue immigration reform, ahead of a speech laying out his own approach to the politically fiery issue.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jan. 29, 2013. Obama hailed a "genuine desire" among warring U.S. politicians to pursue immigration reform, ahead of a speech laying out his own approach to the politically fiery issue. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking in Las Vegas today, President Barack Obama laid out his ideas for a comprehensive immigration reform strategy that in many ways resembles the one a bipartisan group ofU.S. Senators introduced Monday, with key differences.

Among these: Unlike with the Senate plan, a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants wouldn't depend upon meeting a border security goal, although the president's plan also calls for enhanced border and other enforcement.

Beyond the basics of the plan, not surprisingly, Obama went on in his address to talk about immigrants. He told the story of Alan Aleman, a young man who arrived illegally in the U.S. as a child and has since obtained temporary legal status through deferred action. 

But the president evoked a fair amount of applause during this condensed version of U.S. immigration history, told in the context of how the likely debate over reforms will get ugly, as it tends to. From a transcript of Obama's speech:

The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.  Immigration has always been an issue that inflames passions.  That’s not surprising.  There are few things that are more important to us as a society than who gets to come here and call our country home; who gets the privilege of becoming a citizen of the United States of America.  That's a big deal.
 
When we talk about that in the abstract, it’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of “us” versus “them.”  And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of “us” used to be “them.”  We forget that.  
 
It’s really important for us to remember our history.  Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else.  Somebody brought you.  
 
(Federal Interior Secretary) Ken Salazar, he’s of Mexican American descent, but he points that his family has been living where he lives for 400 years, so he didn't immigrate anywhere.  
 
The Irish who left behind a 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.  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, as 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.

Read Obama's immigration reform plan here, and the Senate plan here.

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