EL PASO, Texas — In search of Hispanic votes and a long-shot immigration overhaul, President Barack Obama on Tuesday stood at the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time since winning the White House and declared it more secure than ever. He mocked Republican lawmakers for blocking immigration over border security alone, saying they won't be happy until they get a moat with alligators along the border.
"They'll never be satisfied," he said.
Stymied by both chambers of Congress, Obama ditched lawmakers in favor of voters who might pressure them, making an appeal to the public on a hot and dusty day far from the beltway. He told a friendly crowd that it is up to them to tell Congress to pass legislation providing a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
The approach also allowed the president to make clear that it's Republicans — not him — standing in the way of immigration legislation. As his re-election campaign approaches it is a message he wants broadcast loud and clear to Hispanic voters who don't like his administration's heavy deportations and feel he never made good on his promise to prioritize immigration legislation during his first year in office.
"I am asking you to add your voices to this," Obama said. "We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast. That's how we'll get this done."
Countering Republican calls to focus on border security before moving to a comprehensive overhaul, Obama boasted of increasing Border Patrol agents, nearing completion of a border fence, and screening more cargo, among other steps.
"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. "But even though we've answered these concerns, I've got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time."
Obama made his case in newly sharpened economic terms. He said that the middle class would benefit from bringing illegal immigrants out of an underground economy and drawing on the abilities of immigrants educated in American universities. He also noted that it is not just Hispanics who want an immigration remake, but also police chiefs, business owners, educators and others.