President Obama drew one of his sharpest contrasts with Republicans at Tuesday night's State of the Union address when he called for Congress to pass legislation giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
The president urged lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform, or, absent that, a law like the DREAM Act that gives immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children a way to earn U.S. citizenship under certain conditions.
"I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office," Obama said in his remarks on Capitol Hill.
"The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now," Obama added. "But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away."
It was a portion of tonight's speech that was imbued in politics, both in its appeal to Latino voters who could help fuel Obama's re-election in key swing states, but also in its contrast from Republican presidential candidates, who have expressed opposition to such legislation.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said at a Republican presidential debate on Monday night that he would sign a limited version of the DREAM Act, which the Senate rejected in December of 2010 in a bipartisan vote.
"I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home," he said, adding that he wouldn't support a version that would grant citizenship simply because an undocumented immigrant attends college.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has gone a step futher by vowing to veto the DREAM Act. But he's said he wouldn't favor a policy in which the government rounds up and deports immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally.
"The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we’re not going to round people up," Romney said.