Obama discusses immigration and Ferguson decision during visit to Copernicus Center
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
President Barack Obama delivered a speech on immigration reform and explained the executive order he took last week in front of a lively crowd late Tuesday, Nov. 25, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., but first addressed the unrest in Missouri.
Obama began the evening by addressing the turmoil in Ferguson, MO, stemming from a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
“The grand jury made a decision that upset a lot of people,” the president said. “The frustration that we’ve seen is not just about a particular incident. …We are upset that our laws are not always made…fair.”
However, Obama said that there are productive ways of responding to the growing frustration with the jury’s decision. “Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk is destructive and there is no excuse for it,” Obama said. “Those are criminal acts and people should be prosecuted if they engage in criminal acts.”
Obama also said that he saw people engaging in peaceful protests in many American cities and that they are starting a conversation about how to change the situation so that there is more trust in law enforcement. “Your president will be right there with you.”
Obama said that he would be taking steps to ensure that law enforcement is fair.
“The problem is not just a Ferguson problem but an American problem and we need to make sure that we are actively bringing about change. The bottom line is that nothing of significance results from destructive acts.
“I’ve never seen a civil rights law, or a health care bill, or an immigration bill result because a car got burned,” Obama said. “It happens because people vote, because people organize and mobilize, and people look at what can be done and that’s how you actually move something forward.”
Obama then shifted his focus on immigration reform and the executive order he took last week.
“This town has always been a city of immigrants,” Obama said. “Especially on the North Side up here. You’ve got everything up here. If you go to public schools around here we have 50 to 60 different language spoken there…immigrants have made the city of broad shoulders their home. We have Swedish, Polish, German and Italian and everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”
The president said that immigrants are important to this country because they are essential to growing the economy.
“Our immigration system has been broken for a long time. Families who want to come here the right way get stuck in line for years,” he said. Obama also said that people who come here legally get upset when someone comes illegally.
“Tracking down and deporting everyone is not realistic. It not what America should be. On the other hand, if you came here illegally, you are cutting in line in front of folks who have come here legally. It does mean you are cutting in line in front of people who are waiting,” he said. Obama said that many people who are not criminals “but good people” unfortunately break immigration laws.
Obama also said he had tried to work on a bipartisan bill with Congress but that Republicans have refused to vote on it.
“But until then there are actions I have the legal authority to take that will make our immigration system more fair and more just and I took them last week,” he said.
A female heckler on the stage said that under his administration, the there have been a significant amount of deportations, not only of illegal criminals, but many undocumented workers.
“That’s true. But you’re not paying attention. I just took action to change the law,” the president said. “These actions are lawful and these actions have been taken by every president in the last 50 years…So when folks in Congress question my authority I got a simple answer. Pass a bill.”
The event was held in the center’s 1,900-seat Mitchell Kobelinski Theater, which was built in 1930 as Chicago’s first movie house for talking pictures. The Copernicus Foundation, which is a cultural and civic nonprofit organization, purchased the former Gateway Theater in 1979 and later renamed the theater for one of the founders of the foundation.
Obama’s executive order could eventually help up to 5 million immigrants achieve legal status in the United States. The order “will help secure the border, hold nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants accountable and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules,” the press office said.
Some Republican lawmakers have threatened to file a lawsuit to prevent the executive order on immigration from taking effect. Critics say that Obama’s actions go beyond his constitutional authority.
Last year the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate approved legislation on immigration reform, but it was never brought up for a vote in the Republication-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
Check back at nadignewspapers.com for future updates on the president’s visit to Chicago.
Photo taken by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI