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Obama urge new approach to immigration reform

world Updated: Mar 20, 2009 02:00 IST

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged a “comprehensive approach” to immigration reform, admitting it was a controversial issue in a country that harbours some 12 million mostly Hispanic undocumented workers. “It only works, though, if you do all the pieces,” Obama told a “town hall” meeting in Costa Mesa, California.

“I think the American people — they appreciate and believe in immigration ... (but) you can’t have a situation where you have people pouring over the border without anything to control it,” he said.

“They have become our neighbours. They’ve been our friends. They may have children who have become US citizens. That’s the kind of comprehensive approach we have to take,” he said, reminding his audience of his upcoming visit to Mexico next month.

Obama said, “We have to combine that with cracking down on employers exploiting undocumented workers.”

Earlier Wednesday, Obama held a meeting at the White House with Hispanic lawmakers to voice his commitment to present an immigration reform bill later this year.

Two immigration reform bills were defeated in Congress in 2006 and 2007.

In Costa Mesa, Obama said there would be no “instant amnesty” for the millions of undocumented workers currently living in the US.

“You’ve got to say to the undocumented workers... ‘Look, you’ve broken the law. You didn’t come here the way you were supposed to. So this is not going to be a free ride ... What’s going to happen is you’re going to pay a significant fine. You are going to learn English. You are going to... go to the back of the line so you don’t get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally. But after you’ve done these things over a certain period of time, you can earn your citizenship. So that it’s not — it’s not something that is guaranteed or automatic.’ But over time, you get people an opportunity."