WASHINGTON — President Obama traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday to court Latino voters and renew his call for Congress to overhaul immigration policy.
He called it an "economic imperative" and said he's upheld his commitment to strengthen border security and enforcement. In turn, the president said Republicans and some resistant fellow Democrats should "come back to the table" to create a way to grant legal status to the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to expand visa programs.
"We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement," Obama said in El Paso. "All the stuff they asked for, we've done."
Obama also said the federal government has 20,000 Border Patrol agents, more than twice the 2004 level, and triple the number of intelligence analysts with responsibility for the border. He said unmanned aerial vehicles patrol the border from California to Texas and all southbound rail shipments are screened for guns and money.
Obama said that since he took office, the government has seized 31 percent more drugs at the border, 75 percent more currency and 64 percent more weapons, and that border apprehensions are down almost 40 percent, indicating that fewer people are trying to cross.
Obama predicted that some critics will "want a higher fence" or "alligators in the moat; they'll never be satisfied," but he insisted that the "measures we put in place are getting results."
Still, immigration-overhaul advocates say an overhaul is unlikely to pass Congress between now and the November 2012 elections.
Politically, Obama is betting that promoting the issue could pay off by increasing Latino voter turnout and support for Democrats.
Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, said advocates are pleased to see Obama using his bully pulpit after months of inaction but want more than talk.
Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, said Obama "seemed to be saying we have to keep the 8 million illegal foreign workers in their current jobs so that they can somehow or another create jobs for the 22 million Americans who can't find a full-time job."