MIAMI — President Obama urged the passage of the Dream Act and broader immigration reform in a speech Friday at a community college, pressing a legislative goal that he has found little success in pushing through Congress.
At the commencement of Miami Dade College, a majority-Hispanic school where most students get two-year degrees, Obama repeatedly voiced his support for both immigration legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for people in the United States illegally and the Dream Act, which would make it easier for the children of illegal immigrants to gain legal status by serving in the U.S. military or graduating from college.
“I will keep fighting alongside many of you to make the Dream Act the law of the land,” Obama told a crowd of several thousand graduates and their relatives at the James L. Knight International Center to loud applause. He added, “We should all be able to agree that it makes no sense to expel talented young people from our country.”
Opposed by most Republicans as rewarding illegal behavior by the parents of the students, the Dream Act fell to defeat in the Senate in December. Obama did not make a broader immigration bill a major priority of his first two years in office, instead focusing on health care and economic legislation.
Now, he faces a Republican-controlled House largely opposed to both ideas and some Hispanic activists disappointed that more progress has not been made — particularly after two-thirds of Latinos backed Obama’s 2008 campaign.
“I think there is a sense of ‘Man, you promised us, you had the majority in the House and the Senate, and you spent so much political capital on other issues when you promised us and we came through for you.’ I think the president is probably aware of that,” said Jose Diaz-Balart, who hosts a news program on the Telemundo network. He and some other influential Hispanic media figures met with Obama on Thursday, a day before his trip to Miami.
The speech completed a long day for the president, who spent Friday morning assessing damage from tornadoes in Alabama, then headed to Cape Canaveral intending to see the launch of the shuttle Endeavour. The launch was delayed because of a mechanical problem.
Obama’s appeal on immigration showed the persistent challenge of uniting the country on the issue. Four years ago, President George W. Bush spoke at the commencement for Miami-Dade. He called for “comprehensive immigration reform that will allow us to secure our borders and enforce our laws once and for all, that will keep us competitive in a global economy, and that will resolve the status of those who are already here, without amnesty, and without animosity.”
Obama favors an approach very similar to Bush, who also faced strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress on the issue.