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President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Mexico needs to improve its educational system so that its economy can grow better and to reduce Mexican migration to the United States. Obama said "the Mexican economy is going to depend also on changing some of the structures internally to increase productivity, to train the workforce there, so education in Mexico is going to be also very important."
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THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's very important to recognize, as the question recognizes, that if we can strengthen the Mexican economy then people have less incentive to look for work in the United States. We welcome immigration, but obviously a lot of people in Mexico would love to stay home and create businesses and find jobs that allowed them to support their family if they could, but the Mexican economy has not always been able to generate all the jobs that it needs.
This is a long-term challenge. The Mexican economy is very integrated to the world economy and the U.S. economy, so they were affected by the recession very badly themselves. I have a great relationship with President Calderón and we have looked for a whole range of ways that we can improve cross-border trade. For example, we've been focused on how we can change the borders infrastructure so that goods are flowing more easily back and forth.
Ultimately, though, the Mexican economy is going to depend also on changing some of the structures internally to increase productivity, to train the workforce there, so education in Mexico is going to be also very important. Part of what's happened in Mexico is, is that a lot of people have been displaced from the agricultural sector and they've moved to the cities; they don't have the skills necessarily for the higher-skilled jobs that exist in urban areas. And so an education agenda in Mexico is also important, just as it is here in the United States.
But we very much want to work with Mexico around their development agenda because the more they are able to generate industry and businesses in Mexico, to some extent that's probably going to be one of the best solutions for the immigration pressures that we've been seeing over the last decade or so.
Obama on immigration, deportations and the Dream Act:
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate this, Jose. Obviously this is an issue that I've been working on for years. When I was in the U.S. Senate, I was a cosponsor of comprehensive immigration reform. I have voted for comprehensive immigration reform. And our administration consistently has supported the basic concept that we are a nation of laws but we're also a nation of immigrants, and that immigrants continually have strengthened America's economy, America's culture, and that we have to create a system that works for all of us.
The way to do that is to be serious about border security -- and we have been. We've put more resources in border security than anything that's been done in previous administrations. But what we've also said is, is that for those persons who are here, we have to make sure that we provide a pathway to earning a legal status in this country. They have broken the immigration laws, so they may have to pay a fine, learn English, take other steps. But to create a pathway so that they can get out of the shadows and contribute to society in a more effective way is something that I consider to be a top priority. And we can do it in a way that is compatible with our tradition of everybody being responsible and following the law.
Now, to do that, we've got to get legislation through Congress. And in the past we've seen bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, over the last several years what you’ve seen is the Republican Party move away from support of comprehensive immigration reform.
It used to be that we had a lot of Republican sponsors for the DREAM Act, which would allow young people who have grown up here as Americans and did not break laws themselves but rather were brought here by their parents, they should be studying, serving our military, contributing to our society, starting businesses. We used to have Republican cosponsors for the DREAM Act; now we don't.
So our biggest challenge right now -- the vast majority of Democrats are supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, but given that the Republicans control the House of Representatives and that we need 60 votes in the Senate, our key approach is trying to push Republicans to get back to where they were only a few years ago. In the meantime, what we’re trying to do is to manage the enforcement of our inadequate immigration laws in a way that is humane and just.
So we’ve tried to emphasize making sure that we’re focusing on violent criminals, people who are a threat to society and a threat to our communities, for deportation, and sending a clear signal that our enforcement priority is not to chase down young people who are going to school and who are following all the other laws and are trying to make a contribution to society. But until we get an actual comprehensive immigration law passed through Congress, we’re going to continue to have some of the problems that we’ve been seeing.
MR. LERNER: Just to follow up, Mr. President, you just mentioned enforcement of immigration laws in the subject of deportations, and you said that many of those -- or it’s aimed at criminals. But until now, and until recently, it hadn’t been just criminals, or a majority of criminals, those that have been deported. And also, you have been deporting much more immigrants than the previous administration did in eight years. So laws didn’t change; enforcement was done even then. Why that emphasis on deportation during your administration?
THE PRESIDENT: Actually, what happened, if you look at the statistics, two things happened: Number one is, is that there was a much greater emphasis on criminals rather than non-criminals. And there's been a huge shift in terms of enforcement, and that began as soon as I came into office. That change has taken place.
Secondly, the statistics are actually a little deceptive because what we’ve been doing is with the stronger border enforcement we’ve been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day or 48 hours, sent back -- that’s counted as a deportation. So we’ve been much more effective on the borders. But we have not been more aggressive when it comes to dealing, for example, with DREAM Act kids. That’s just not the case.
So what we’ve tried to do is within the constraints of the laws on the books, we’ve tried to be as fair, humane, just as we can, recognizing, though, that the laws themselves need to be changed. And I’ve been unwavering in my support of changing the laws so that we’re strong on border security, we’re going after companies that are taking advantage of undocumented workers -- paying them sub-minimum wages and not respecting workplace safety laws -- but also saying that we’ve got to have a pathway to citizenship and for legal status for those who are already here and have put roots down here and are part of the fabric of our community, because we actually believe that they can contribute to our economy in an effective way.
The other thing that we want to emphasize is, for those who have an ambition to start a business, entrepreneurs, young people who have gotten college degrees or advanced degrees -- for us to train them here in the United States and then send them back to start businesses elsewhere makes absolutely no sense. The history of many of our biggest businesses is they were started by immigrants who came here seeking opportunity. And we want to make sure that, both in terms of people who are here doing jobs that other folks may not want to do, but also people who have extraordinary training and can create jobs for all Americans, that we are giving both of those folks opportunities.