Parsing Obama's Message to a Hispanic Audience: No Direct Answers on Immigration, Defends Use of "Illegal" Term

Obama sits down to talk to Jorge Ramos on Univision. (Photo: Univision.com)

Obama sits down to talk to Jorge Ramos on Univision. (Photo: Univision.com)

Part of President Barack Obama’s Sunday morning interview blitz was a sitdown with Univision’s Jorge Ramos, in which the anchor’s questions were as telling as the president’s answers.

Ramos confronted Obama not only about whether undocumented immigrants will be able to buy insurance under a reformed health care system, but also questioned his use of the term “illegal immigrants” during his recent speech to Congress and pressured him on his fading promise of putting forward an immigration reform bill during his first year in office.

Obama stepped carefully around the thornier questions and, other than reaffirming that the undocumented will only get health insurance by paying full price for it, did not say much that was news to an Hispanic audience that may be increasingly disappointed with his government.

“Right now, the plan we’ve put forward, and I want to be absolutely clear, should not include undocumented workers,” Obama said, to get the nagging issue off the table. He added that “if they want to buy insurance, that’s between them and the private insurers.”

Those in the country illegally would not be able to buy coverage through the health exchange Obama wants to set up. Their only option would be to pay full price to private companies that sell insurance outside the exchange, if they can afford it.

Obama made it clear that the children of legal residents and even American citizens with one parent who is undocumented should get health coverage.

Ramos then noted that if the undocumented population cannot buy cheaper insurance through the new public system nor the more expensive private plans, that would create an enormous burden for emergency rooms nationwide.

“Isn’t that exactly what you wanted to avoid?” he asked.

“I would like to solve our immigration problem,” Obama replied. “I can’t solve every problem all at once.” He then reiterated his commitment to addressing immigration reform, although he did not set a timetable for that. Neither did he actually address the issue of how the use of emergency rooms by undocumented immigrants would affect health care costs.

The interviewer then noted that during his presidential campaign, Obama had used the term “undocumented immigrants,” but in his recent speech before Congress decided to switch to the phrase “illegal immigrants.” “Why did you use language associated with the critics of immigrants?” Ramos asked.

Obama said he used the term because he was addressing the “misinformation from the other side.”

“I was essentially quoting them,” he said. “I was saying that, ‘Those of you who say illegal immigrants are going to be covered under the health plan’, I said, ‘That’s not true.'”

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