(CNSNews.com) - Admitting that he was preaching to the choir," President Obama told law enforcement officers on Tuesday that they must add their voices to those who are demanding comprehensive immigration reform.
"It's estimated that over 80 percent of the folks who are here on an undocumented basis have been here 10 years or longer," Obama said. "You know, these are folks who are woven into the fabrics of our communities. Their kids are going to school with our kids. Most of them are not making trouble."
But recent press reports, including one from The Hill, noted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials last year released 67,800 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions.
“ICE released 68,000 criminal aliens in 2013, or 35 percent of the criminal aliens encountered by officers. The vast majority of these releases occurred because of the Obama administration’s prosecutorial discretion policies,” Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in a memo summarizing the DHS document.
"Most of them are not causing crimes," President Obama said on Tuesday, "and yet, we put them in this untenuous position, and it creates a situation in which your personnel, who have got to go after gang-bangers and need to be going after violent criminals and deal with the whole range of challenges, and who have to cooperate with DHS around our counterterrorism activities -- you've got to spend time dealing with somebody who has not caused any other trouble other than the fact that they were trying to make a living for their families. That's just not a good use of our resources. It's not smart. It doesn't make sense.
"So I know I'm preaching to the choir here. You wouldn't be here if you didn't agree with us that this is time for us to -- to go ahead and get moving."
Obama said passing immigration reform legislation is "important to our economic future" and to our "cultural future," and he urged the law enforcement officers to join other groups in pressing House Republicans to take up an immigration reform bill.
"But we've got this narrow window. The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here."
Obama said immigration reform has to get done in the next two or three months, and he said support from the law enforcement community "lends this overall effort great credibility."
He repeated that any bill he signs must include "a firm but fair pathway to earn citizenship for those who live in the shadow."