From Russian spies to Mexican immigrants, Obama has his hands full

AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
US President Barack Obama, just days after the FBI arrested 10 alleged Russian spies on American soil, has delivered a speech outlining how America would address immigration in the future.

In an occasionally stirring speech, the American president blamed partisan politics as one of the main reasons America is stumbling so badly on the immigration front.

"Just a few years ago, when I was a senator, we forged a bipartisan coalition in favor of comprehensive reform,'' Obama said Thursday during a speech at the American University School of International Service in Washington. ''But that effort eventually came apart. And now, under the pressures of partisanship and election-year politics, many of the 11 Republican senators who voted for reform in the past have now backed away from their previous support.''

Now, Washington is in the awkward position of watching individual states make clumsy efforts at solving the immigration issue on their own.

"Into this breach, states like Arizona have decided to take matters into their own hands,'' Obama said, while acknowledging that such “levels of frustration across the country…is understandable, but also ill-conceived. When individual states attempt to resolve the issue on their own, they only fan ''the flames of an already contentious debate.''

Despite the powerful speech, President Obama finds himself between a rock and a hard place, which gives him precious little room for maneuvering. At the very same time that around 10 per cent of the US population is without work (and those figures are considered optimistic, since individuals who stop receiving their unemployment checks also stop appearing in the unemployment data), Obama is asking state officials to be patient until America's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants can safely be assimilated into American society. He does not support “mass deportations,” but rather a "blanket amnesty" for millions of individuals who are placing tremendous pressure on American communities.

"If the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people," Obama said. "Even if it was possible, a program of mass deportations would disrupt our economy and communities in ways that most Americans would find intolerable".

What many Americans seem to find even more intolerable is that the immigration situation was allowed to get out of control in the first place. And given America's downbeat economic climate, it is no surprise that more Americans are taking a second look at those “undesirable jobs” that illegal immigrants presently perform for a fraction of the cost of what the legal domestic workforce would demand.

It also goes a long way towards explaining why the Arizona business community came out on Thursday, asking Washington to settle the issue.

Nineteen business groups in Arizona urged the federal government to pass immigration reform in order to confront the "divisive, emotionally charged environment" in the state.

The business groups warn that the issue is "tearing at the fabric of Arizona 's sense of community and threatening the essence of our historically diverse culture."

In other words, the US business community, arguing on behalf of America's “historically diverse culture,” doesn't want anything to happen to its endless supply of cheap labor from south of the border.

Heat on immigration rising

Meanwhile, Arizona police officers are trying to figure out how to enforce the state's tough anti-immigration measures without appearing to be racially profiling foreigners.

In an instructional video released Thursday, officers are warned not to use race or ethnicity when enforcing the state's immigration law, saying "the whole country is watching."

But officers were told they are allowed to consider if a person has poor English-speaking skills, appears anxious or is traveling in a large group. According to a report by the Associated Press, they can even ''take into account whether someone is wearing several layers of clothing in a hot climate, or hanging out in an area where illegal immigrants are known to look for work.”

The police officers were also warned that opponents of the law, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) may secretly videotape police making traffic stops, in an effort to prove that they are racially profiling Hispanics, and other foreign groups.

"Nothing about the new law makes racial profiling acceptable," Gerald Richard, a special policy adviser at the Arizona Attorney General's Office, says in the video.

A Russian connection?

In Moscow, Obama's impassioned speech on immigration reform, coming just days after the FBI arrested 10 individuals allegedly involved in a "deep cover" spy operation on American soil, has some Russians wondering if applying for an American visa will now become more complicated.

On any given day, dozens of Russians are queued up outside of the US consulate building in the center of the Russian capital to endure the uncomfortable task of completing a small mountain of paperwork, as well as appearing for an interview before getting a US visa stamped in their passports.

On Thursday, and despite sobering headlines concerning the fate of alleged Russian "spies", lines at the US consulate in Moscow showed no signs of diminishing. Indeed, those who agreed to an interview seemed indifferent to the news.

"Well, I know for sure that I am not a spy," laughed Olga, 19, who hopes to travel to the United States to work at a children’s summer camp in Minnesota. "Besides, I am studying to be a dentist, so I doubt that I would be qualified for such a job," she added with a laugh.

Another visa hopeful, Dmitry, who said he was on his third trip to the consulate because of "technicalities," believes the US spy story is "all over politics."

"From what I have heard in the news reports," he said, shading his eyes from the afternoon sun, "President Obama has a lot of enemies in Washington. And of course these people don't like that he is getting friendly with [President Dmitry] Medvedev. So they grabbed these people when they did just to hurt him politically."

­Robert Bridge, RT