Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas and Telemundo anchor José Diaz Balart interviewed President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday, following the much awaited announcement of plans for immigration reform.
Both anchors tackled not just the issue of immigration reform, but also gun control, the role of Hispanics in his Cabinet, and possible policy changes with regards to Cuba.
Univision divided the interview into 2 parts for “Noticiero Univision” – the first part airing yesterday and the second today at 6:30 pm ET. It will have play again during the network’s public affairs show “Al Punto,” hosted by Jorge Ramos this Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 10:00 am ET.
Telemundo didn’t split up the interview for its national newscast. It aired the interview yesterday at 6:30 pm, with an extended version to be broadcast on the network’s Sunday public affairs show “Enfoque con Jose Diaz-Balart” this Sunday, February 3rd at 11:55 am ET.
Both networks have provided English transcripts of the interview. Here are both transcripts:
UNIVISION – interview with María Elena Salinas
MES: Thank you Mr. President. You’re starting you’re second term taking on two very controversial and difficult issues: immigration reform and gun control. You said in your speech in Las Vegas … “the time is now.” Gabby Giffords in a very emotional plea in the Senate hearing today on gun control said … “now is the time.” Can Congress tackle both issues at the same time? And which one will have priority?
PBO: Well, there’s no doubt that Congress can tackle both. Because both are important. We have to get comprehensive immigration reform. The system is broken. It’s been too long since we reformed the system. And we’re starting to see a bipartisan consensus built around this. So we need to take the opportunity and we need to do it fast. I don’t want us waiting six months or a year to get this done. And there’s no reason why we can’t move fairly quickly. As the Senators do their work, start identifying where there’s some differences. We can provide some technical assistance.
MES: Will one be easier than the other?
PBO: Well, my suspicion is we’re seeing more bipartisan discussion on the immigration issue, than on the gun issue. But I also think that on the gun issue you’re starting to see the gun owners, people who traditionally opposed gun control saying … you know what, when 20 of our children are shot by somebody whose disturbed, and when it’s that easy to get these high clip magazines that can fire off hundreds of shots in a few minutes, that it’s time for us to do a better job on background checks. To get control of these magazine clips … to really crack down on gun trafficking. And so I’m actually optimistic that we can get both done. Both will end up generating some opposition and some strong opposition. There will be passions on both sides. But I’m generally encouraged that the Senate seems to be having a serious conversation about these issues.
MES: You said in your speech that if Congress does not work in a timely manner on immigration reform you will send your own bill. And you will ask them to, in your own words, to vote on it right away. What to you is a timely manner? The Senate is supposed to introduce legislation by March. Is it weeks, is it months? What’s a timely manner?
PBO: Well, you know if they can get a piece of legislation debated on the floor by March I think that’s a good timeline. And I think that can be accomplished. Keep in mind that most of these issues we’ve done work on already. We have a pretty good sense of the work we’ve already done on border security. And any additional changes that need to be made. We already know what would be required to earn a legal status and citizenship in terms of paying a fine and learning English. And going through background checks and paying back taxes. So a lot of this work has been done. And in the past has obtained bipartisan support. So we’ve already drafted a bill.
MES: At what point would you intervene though? How much time — do you have your own timeline as to how much you would give them, before you intervene with your own bill?
PBO: Yeah, as I said, if they’re on a path as they’ve already said where they want to get a bill done by March, then I think that’s a reasonable timeline. And I think that we can get that done. I’m not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little bit of room to debate. If it slips a week, that’s one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that’s a problem.
MES: Will we have immigration reform by the end of this year?
PBO: I believe so.
MES: You can tell our audience “¡si se puede!”
PBO: “¡Si se puede!” But I want to remind the audience, because Maria Elena we’ve had this conversation for many, many years. The only way this is going to get done is if the Republicans continue to work with Democrats in Congress in both chambers in order to get a bill to my desk. And I’m going to keep on pushing as hard as I can. I believe that the mood is right. I was very pleased to see the Senators from both the Democratic side and the Republican side come together and put forth principles. Now they’ve got to fill in the details. But you know, the issue here is going to be political. Look, it’s not that we don’t know how to do this. It’s not that we got technical problems. This is a matter of, as I said in my speech yesterday, us recognizing that comprehensive immigration reform will make our economy stronger. It is true to our traditions. It speaks to our future. It makes sure that young people who are here like the DREAMERs who want to contribute and want to join our military, want to start a business, that they have opportunities. And, you know, if we keep that positive mindset understanding that that is a strength of America that we attract talent from all around the world, then I’m confident that we can get it done.
MES: Most people believe that the biggest hurdle will be the path to citizenship. You have clearly said that it mustn’t be included from the outset. Senator Marco Rubio says that he will not support a bill that does not put border security ahead of citizenship. Is this going to end up being a battle between you and Marco Rubio?
PBO: No, I don’t think so. Look, we put border security ahead of pathway to citizenship. We have done more on border security in the last four years than we have done in the previous 20. We’ve seen a drop in terms of illegal crossings of about 80 percent since 2000. We have made enormous strides, put resources in, we’ve actually done almost everything that Republicans asked to be done several years ago as a condition to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. Given that that’s the case, it’s not as if we haven’t been attentive to border security and we will continue to be attentive to border security. What we don’t want to do is to create some vague prospect in the future that somehow comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will happen, you know, mañana. We want to make sure that we’re very clear that this legislation provides a real pathway. Now that pathway will take some time. That even under our proposal, this is not a situation where overnight suddenly people all find themselves as citizens. They’re going to have to earn their way to it. And they’re going to have to go to the back of the line. We’re going to have to clear out the, you know, existing lines, the backlog that we have in terms of legal immigrants. Because they did it the right way. We shouldn’t punish them for not breaking the law.
PBO: So all those things are going to have to be put in place. But we have to put that in the place at the outset and make sure that people are clear that this pathway is real and not just a fantasy for the future.
MES: As you could imagine there are hundreds of questions. The questions that I have gotten on social media since I announced that I would be doing this interview. Millions of people are desperate to hear from you. They want answers. People who voted for you and people who are confident that this year, this time around you will definitely keep your promise. Most cases are very complex. But the most commonly asked question is, for example, one from Jonathan made on Facebook. “Under your plan what would happen to those who already have deportation letters. Also, would parents of U.S. born children who have been deported be able to come back under your plan?”
PBO: Well, what I’m going to do is allow the Senate to work on these details. I don’t want to, you know, fill in all the blanks. Because otherwise I would have gone ahead and put a bill forward. And then sometimes that creates a dynamic in Congress where if I’m for it, then maybe some people have to be against it. I think these are all legitimate questions. I think that over the next several weeks, these next several months what we’ll see is many of these issues will be debated. But the basic principle would be, from my perspective, that somebody who has lived here has been overall a good neighbor … has been somebody who’s been law abiding other than the fact that they came here illegally. That have put roots down here. That they should have the capacity to earn citizenship. And we’ll have to make a whole range of decisions about individual cases. And we’ll have to create a structure to make sure that that works. And as I said, we’ve got to make sure that we streamline the process for legal immigration because so much of the illegal immigration process has resulted because it’s so difficult for many people to reunify with their families, and so forth.
MES: Exactly. And there were a lot of questions about that too. Now I know that you have reduced, this is another concern on Twitter, the number of deportations of non-criminals. However, in 2012 more than 184,000 non-criminals were deported. In the spirit of your push for immigration reform, would you consider a moratorium on deportations of non-criminals? Remember, these are your words: “This is not about policy. It’s about people.”
PBO: Well, I think it is important to remind everybody that, as I said I think previously, and I’m not a king. I am the head of the executive branch of government. I’m required to follow the law. And that’s what we’ve done. But what I’ve also said is, let’s make sure that we’re applying the law in a way that takes into account people’s humanity. That’s the reason that we moved forward on deferred action. Within the confines of the law we said, we have some discretion in terms of how we apply this law. The same is true with respect to the kinds of the length of time that people have to spend outside of the country when their spouses are already here for example.
PBO: So we’re making some changes there. But there are still going to be stories that are heartbreaking. With respect to deportations until we get comprehensive immigration reform. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important for us to go ahead and get this action done. And keep in mind that if we’re able to say, at the end of this year, or maybe even before the end of the summer, that we’ve gotten comprehensive immigration reform done, then that then empowers me to deal with many of these issues in a way that I think, to allow the more specific issues that a lot of people I think would like to see resolved.
MES: If you had to choose, what would be the concessions that you would be willing to make on immigration reform? And what would be completely unacceptable to you?
PBO: Well, I‘ve been very clear about what my core principles are. I think comprehensive immigration reform has to continue and build on the work we’ve done to strengthen border security. It has to have provisions to strengthen the legal immigration system. And streamline it and make it easier and faster and fairer for people. And it has to have a pathway to citizenship that is real. And that people can say … “alright, I now know that if I take these steps I have a chance to stay here with my family, do the right thing, and over time, maybe down the road, be able to earn my right to take that oath and make that pledge as an American citizen.” And I think, there are going to be a whole range of other issues involved in this. There are going to be some who are arguing for guest worker programs. There are going to be some issues around agricultural jobs that are very important. There are issues surrounding how do we make sure that employers are, you know, have the data that they need to check to see if somebody has a legal employment status. So there are going to be a whole range of issues and people are going to be on various sides of those issues. Let’s let these Senators who have taken it upon themselves to negotiate. Let’s them negotiate. We will be in consultation with them. If I see something that I think is wrong, I will let them know. But I don’t want to prejudge it, since I haven’t seen any details from their legislations.
MES: Before we run out of time. I have two short questions for you. In putting together your second term in the Cabinet, we noticed that there’s less Latinos. Will there be room for Latinos in your new administration? People like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or Mayor Julian Castro?
PBO: Well, first of all, we haven’t completed the formation of my Cabinet. So I’ll let people judge it after all my appointments have been made whether or not we’ve made progress. One of my highest priorities as an administration, particularly in my second term, because now I’m thinking about legacy, is to make sure that we are identifying talent from every walk of life, from every ethnic group, so that the next President will see how big a pool there is of talent out there, that can serve and wants to serve in a Presidential administration. So we’re going to redouble our efforts to recruit talented and gifted Latinos that come from every walk of life. It comes from academia, it comes from elected officials. It comes from foundations and non-for profits. Maybe some will come from the media.
MES: How interesting.
PBO: And we want to identify as much talent as possible. And you know, obviously the Latino community is growing faster than just about any other community.
PBO: And that means that we’ve got to prepare leadership for the future, not just for today.
MES: You mentioned legacy and I will close with this question. You don’t have to worry about reelection anymore now. The only thing at stake is your legacy. What do you want or what do you think your legacy will be?
PBO: Well, I spoke about my vision at the inauguration. You know, America has everything that it needs to be not just a great country, but a country that is leading the world on so many important issues. But we just have to come together and recognize what is it that is most important to us. What makes us special. And what makes us special more than anything is the fact that we believe in hard work. We believe that if you work hard you should be able to succeed, that you should be able to pay your bills and support a family. So I want to leave behind a legacy where the economy once again works for the middleclass and people who are striving to get in the middleclass. That kids who want a good education can get a good education. That everybody whose willing to work hard can make it. And the other thing is that it includes everybody. Right? That we’re not saying, there’s some Americans who make it, but some who don’t. There’s some who look like this, or some who, you know, had that sexual orientation or some people who had that perspective and somehow they’re not as important. You know, what has always been a hallmark of America even when we didn’t always live up to the ideal, was this ideal that, you know, we hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are created equal.
MES: And I’m sure you want people to remember you as the President that passed immigration reform. Thank you Mr. President.
PBO: Absolutely. Thank you so much. That’s part of it. Thank you.
TELEMUNDO – interview with José Diaz Balart
JOSÉ DÍAZ-BALART (JDP):
So Presidente, gracias.
PRESIDENT OBAMA (PO):
Great to see you.
Thank you. Likewise. Mr. President, yesterday you said that if Congress doesn’t act fast enough on immigration you’ll send a bill. What exactly is fast enough?
Well, the senators themselves have said that they’d like to see legislation done by March. That they’d like to be able to present that– not only to– their fellow members of the Senate but also the American people. And– yeah, I think that’s a reasonable timeline.
The– the important point here is that we’ve been working’ on this for a long time. We know what the issues are. I’ve got a bill drafted. We’ve got language. We know what’s needed when it comes to border security. We know what’s needed when it comes to– dealing with employers who may– unlawfully hire– undocumented workers. We know what a pathway to citizen– ship looks like and– and what the criteria should be.
And so really the issue here is not so much technical as it is political. It’s a matter of– Republicans and Democrats coming together– and finding a meeting of the minds and then making the case. And– you know, I’m– I’m hopeful that this can get done and– and I don’t think that– it should take– many, many months. I think this is something that we should be able to get done certainly this year, and I’d like to see if we can get it done– sooner, in the first half of the year if possible.
Yesterday in your Las Vegas rally I met Leticia. She is an undocumented mother of three. And she and so many other people– ask me to ask you, “Why can’t you do for them what you did for the dreamers?”
Well, I think as– as you know– and I’ve said this before to you, Jose, but– I’m not a king. You know, my job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law. And– you know, when it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws– we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize– what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law.
When it comes to the dreamers– we were able to identify that group and– and say, “These folks are generally not a risk. They’re not involved in crime. They’re going to school. They’re doin’ the right things. They’ve– effectively– been raised here and– think of themselves as Americans. And so let’s prioritize our enforcement resources.”
But to sort through all the possible cases– of everybody who might have a sympathetic story to tell is very difficult to do. This is why we need comprehensive immigration reform. To make sure that once and for all– in a way that is– you know, ratified by Congress, we can say that there is a pathway to citizenship for people who are staying out of trouble, who are trying to do the right thing, who’ve put down roots here.
You know, but it’s gonna be tough. They’re gonna have to pay a fine. They’re gonna have to pay back taxes. Background checks. You know, learning English. They’ve gotta– they’re gonna have to– you know, work hard to– to achieve– this incredible privilege of being a U.S. citizen and–
Even if it takes a long time?
And it may take some time. But the point is there should be certainty for them that if they do these things they can achieve it. What we don’t want is I think a vague promise that somewhere down the line maybe sort of kinda you may be able to– achieve citizenship. We wanna give people clarity about how they can move forward.
Mr. President, will the record number of deportations continue, even if– there is some serious progress on– immigration reform on Capitol Hill? Will these deportations continue the same level that we’ve seen under your administration?
Well, look– I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. My job is to carry out the law. And– so Congress gives us a whole bunch of resources. They give us– an order that we’ve gotta go out there and enforce the laws that are on the books. And we’ve done so. And we’ve done so effectively.
And I make no apologies for us enforcing the law as well as the work that we’ve done to strengthen border security. As a consequence we’ve actually seen an 80% drop in– illegal crossings. And what we’ve seen is is that the people who are being deported, the vast majority of them now are criminals. That did not used to be the case. But there’re still obviously gonna be people who get caught up in the system–
And lots of ’em.
That– that’s heart-breaking. But that’s why we’re– pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. If– if I– obviously if– if– this was an issue that I could do unilaterally I would have done it a long time ago. And we’ve talked about this before. The way our system works is Congress has to pass legislation. I then get an opportunity to sign it and implement it. And that’s what we’re gonna be fighting for in the next several months.
So the deportations will continue as have been happening?
What– what I’m saying is that that may be a moot question, because I anticipate us being able to get comprehensive immigration reform done.
I checked today– Marco Rubio’s office and other Republicans working on immigration. They say they have not had any communication with you. Not meetings. And they’d like that to show bipartisan efforts– that are serious. Is that something you see– in the future?
Look– I am happy to meet with anybody, anytime, anywhere– to make sure that this hing– thing happens. You know, the truth is oftentimes what happens is– is– members of Congress prefer meeting among themselves to build trust– between Democrats and Republicans there. They want assistance from us but sometimes they want it through back channels. And, you know, if they want a public meeting, if they want– private meetings, anything that– is necessary to move this thing forward, we’re happy to do.
Great. In the immigration reform principles that you released yesterday– it says that undocumented or, quote, “people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for Obamacare.” What exactly does that mean?
Well, what it means is– this has always been the case. When we talk about– providing people with a provisional legal status, assuming we get comprehensive immigration reform done– then, you know, they would not be entitled to the same subsidies– to obtain healthcare, for example, that a U.S. citizen– is able to obtain.
That doesn’t mean that they can’t get healthcare, for example. It means, for example, if they wanna pay out of pocket they could still join an exchange. They could still participate. They would have the same ability to obtain health insurance as anybody else, but, you know, the way we’ve designed it, very low income persons are able to get tax credits in order to help to purchase insurance. That is something that– we do for citizens. That’s not something that we do for non-citizens.
But I– I think it’s fair to say– Jose that– it– you know, if you asked– a person right now who’s living in the shadows– “Are you willing to take a deal where you can get a driver’s license, you can get a– work permit, you’re legal, but right now you’re not– able to– benefit from a subsidy, even though you are able to live your life and– and– get health insurance,” I– I think they’d be happy to take that deal.
A lot of questions that we’re getting– are about people who have recently been deported– and that would probably qualify– in the future under immigration reform. A lot of questions are, “My husband– was deported. What happens to him?” Is there a chance for the people that in this period are deported to come back?
Well, I think– there’re gonna be a lot of details that have to be worked out. It is true of any law– that– you know– when I passed– healthcare reform there were probably some people who six months earlier could have really used– some help. And they didn’t get it until the law got passed.
And so– you know– there may be ways in which the Senate and the House, as they pass this legislation– decide that– you know, they take certain groups that are particularly sympathetic and they try to deal with them in some– in some fashion. I’ll let them work on the details of that.
I think the most important thing that I’m thinking about is– the future. And, you know, families, children, people who are workin’ hard and living their lives. I wanna make sure that– the story they tell– 10 years from now, 15 years from now, 20 years from now when they talk to their– their own children and grandchildren is– is that this was a time when America reaffirmed we are a nation of immigrants. We reaffirmed that this will make us a stronger nation, not a weaker nation.
There are so many people that when they hear– you say that this is the time for immigration reform and they– they think– of many– past efforts that have failed. And they say, “Mr. President, how can you be so sure?”
Well, I– I can’t be 100% sure. You know, what I do know is is that– in the past we’ve seen bipartisan support for this. When I first came into the Senate in 2006 we had 23 Republicans who supported this. In 2007 that went down– significantly. And then for the last couple of years it’s been zero.
Now we’re building back up. And we’ve seen– you know, four Republican senators who’ve stepped up. And I’m– I– I’ve publicly praised them for– engaging with their Democratic counterparts on this issue. That is a good sign. It’s a good step. And you’re seeing some Republican commentators saying this is important.
And, you know, you’ll remember– one of the things I used to tell immigrant– rights advocates– was the way to change Congress is to show the power of the ballot. And the Latino community turned out in record numbers and it’s made a difference. And– and because of that I think we have a better chance now than we’ve had at any time since I’ve been president.
Now does that mean guar– that somethin’ couldn’t go off the rails? That the pressure of those who are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform might not be able to block it? Of course that’s still a possibility. But the one thing I can guarantee is my effort. I can guarantee that I will put everything I’ve got behind it. We’re putting our shoulder to the wheel. I’ll be talking about it. We’ve now got a majority of Americans who are supportive of comprehensive immigration reform. And, you know, I will do everything I can to make sure that we align public opinion with– Congressional votes so that I can actually get a bill on that– on that desk to sign.
Yesterday Secretary Clinton– referring to Cuba said it’s a dictatorship that must change in the near future. That policy of your administration, of no normalization until there’s democratization, do you see that changing in your second term with a new secretary of State?
Well, you know– we have tried to– make overtures that were good for the Cuban people. You know, loosening up remittances from family members. Loosening up travel for family members back to Cuba. Because our view has been that that empowers civil society inside of Cuba. That empowers people– who, you know, wanna have a voice in Cuba.
But what we’ve also said is– is that– in order for us to see an actual normalization– of the relations between– the United States and Cuba, that we have to do something about all those political prisoners– who are still there. We’ve gotta do something about just basic freedoms of– of the press and– and assembly.
We don’t expect every country to operate the way we do. And obviously we do business with a lot of countries around the world– that don’t meet our standards in terms of– you know, constitutions and rights. But we do think it’s important for us to continue to push to make sure that– the Cuban people themselves– have a voice in their lives.
And– my hope is is that– slowly but surely– the Cuban leadership begins to recognize, “It’s time to join the 21st century.” You know, it– it– I mean it– it– it’s– it’s one thing to have cars from the 1950s. It’s another thing when (CHUCKLE) your whole political ideology– is coming out– is– is 50 years or s– or 60 years old and– and it’s been proven not to work.
And– I think that we can have– progress over the next four years. I’m happy to engage it. I think it would be good for the Cuban people. But– but it’s– it’s gotta be a two way street. It can’t just be– that we look away completely from– you know, the very sad circumstances that a lot of Cubans– still live in.
Back– back home– specifically in your hometown of Chicago, yesterday 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot dead in a park. She was here in Washington to– take part in your inaugural. Chicago has one of the strictest gun control laws, certainly in the state and across the country. Doesn’t this in a way give credence to the NRA’s point that more laws don’t necessarily equate to less gun violence?
Well, the problem is is that– a huge proportion of those guns come in from outside Chicago. I mean what is absolutely true is that– if you are just– creating a– bunch of pockets of gun laws without having sort of– a unified, integrated system, for example of background checks, then, you know, it’s gonna be a lot harder for– an individual community, a single community, to protect itself from this kind of gun violence. That’s precisely why it– we think it’s important for Congress to act.
And– and, remember, that what we’re looking for here has nothing to do with taking away people’s guns. Nobody’s talking about– somehow violating the Second Amendment. We’re talking about some commonsense things that– for example, I– I met with law enforcement, police chiefs, sheriffs, from–
Gabby Giffords today.
Gabby Giffords. Small communities, rural communities, big cities. And there’re some things that they know would make sense. That’s what we’ve proposed. If you have a universal background system so that we can make sure that– people who have violent– intentions and delusions can’t get– a weapon.
If we make sure that– people can’t fire off 100 rounds in a minute– because of these– magazine clips. If we ensure that– we’re cracking down on gun traffickers. Those are the kinds of things that the vast majority of the American pe– public agrees with, but also– a lot of– gun owners agree with.
And what we’d like to see is– is for us to make progress, because anybody who– you know, went up to Newtown and met those parents and– and saw what they were goin’ through– I think recognizes that if– if– if we’re not doing something to try to have an impact on that, to lessen it, even if it’s not perfect, even if it doesn’t work every time, even if it– doesn’t save every– person who’s– a potential victim of gun violence but we– we save a few, you know, if we don’t do that, shame on us.