Conservative media outlets are attacking Vice President Joe Biden over his recent statement that he believes undocumented immigrants are “already Americans” and they “are just waiting, waiting for a chance to be able to contribute fully.” This sentiment is hardly controversial since, as the Pew Research Center notes, nearly two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have lived in the country for at least a decade, and for many, the United States is the only home they have ever known.
During a speech at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Summit on March 27, Biden argued that “if you really want a game-changer, the single most important thing we can do for our economy, for America’s future, is pass immigration reform now,” and stated:
BIDEN: Eleven million people living in the shadows I believed are already American citizens. Teddy Roosevelt said it better. He said Americanism is not a question of birthplace or creed, or a line of descent. It’s a question of principles, idealism and character.
These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to be able to contribute fully, and by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans in my view. All they want — they just want a decent life for their kids, a chance to contribute to a free society, a chance to put down roots and help build the next great American century. I really believe that. That’s what they’re fighting for.
He went on to laud immigrants, noting: “It takes a whole hell of a lot of courage” to move and go to America to chase a better life.
The remarks were highlighted by a number of conservative outlets, including Breitbart News, Fox Nation, and Townhall.com, which claimed that this was proof of Biden’s “indifference to legal proceedings” which the outlet stated “shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the unlawful actions and factual errors made by his boss.” Townhall added that “trivializing the laws of the United States is no way to foster law-abiding citizens.”
In an article on the remarks, The Washington Times wrote that Biden, who is “already known as a habitual blurter of the near-nonsensical and politically befuddling — may have one-upped himself this week with a somewhat shocking statement on illegal immigrants.”
After airing an edited clip of Biden’s remarks, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed the vice president’s staff would have to engage in some type of “damage control,” with co-host Steve Doocy saying that undocumented immigrants would then “go out and vote.”
The Pew Research Center estimates that nearly two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have lived in the country at least a decade, 35 percent for 15 years or more. Moreover, nearly half live in families with children younger than 18.
Discussing a study that found that Hispanic immigrants are assimilating just as quickly if not faster than previous waves of immigrants, The Washington Post noted that “[t]here just aren’t any differences to be found” between the two groups’ rate of assimilation.
This isn’t the first time Biden has made comments likening undocumented immigrants to Americans. In December 2013, the Associated Press reported:
Vice President Joe Biden says Congress has a moral and economic imperative to offer a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Many of them, he says, “are already Americans,” whether they’re here legally or not. He says immigrants simply want a decent life for themselves and their children, just as his great grandparents did.
Biden’s comments came in a speech to Pennsylvania political leaders gathered in New York on Saturday.
That same year in March, he said the same thing to a group of Irish-Americans. From IrishCentral:
Joe Biden s said the 50,000 undocumented Irish should to be brought “out of the shadows,” and they and other “undocumented” in the US “should be entitled to earn a path to citizenship.”
“They are Americans but they are not citizens — they are undocumented. We need to find a fair and effective and decent way to take them out of the shadows,” Biden said.
The system was broken, he said, and “needs to be fixed.”
Biden’s speech to an audience of 300 Irish American leaders was a direct challenge to them to get involved in the issue. As such it was a very brave clarion call by a leading Irish American who did not fear to push his own ethnic group to do more on the controversial issue.
Others have also made remarks recognizing that for many undocumented immigrants, their home is the United States. During an interview with the Miami Herald in August 2013, Tea Party Republican Rep. Steve Southerland noted that young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children consider the United States home. He stated of one undocumented immigrant he met: “We have to make sure that a young person like that has a way. This is his home. We have to make sure that he has a way to be legitimized as a citizen.”
Jim Wallis, the president and founder of Sojourners, reiterated that fact in a Time.com op-ed, writing: “Young people, who came here as children, live as ‘illegals’ in the only country they have ever known as home.”
A June 2012 Time magazine cover depicted this sentiment exactly using the headline, “We Are Americans*: Just not legally”:
When journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who wrote Time’s cover story, revealed in a June 2011 New York Times article that he was undocumented, he wrote: “I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.”
The White House and other immigrants’ rights organizations have referred to undocumented immigrants as “aspiring Americans” in the hopes of gaining support for comprehensive immigration reform.