TIME Immigration

Obama Plugs ‘Immigration Rights’ in Labor Day Address

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at Laborfest 2014 at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee on Labor Day, Sept. 1, 2014 Charles Dharapak—AP

Off-the-cuff statement indicates Obama is laying the groundwork for unilateral executive action that could defer prosecutions for millions of illegal immigrants

Delivering a fiery address marking Labor Day in Milwaukee on Monday, President Barack Obama for the first time indicated his support for the rights of immigrants in the U.S.

“Hope is what gives us courage; hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach,” Obama said, harkening back to his 2008 presidential campaign. “Hope is what gives young people the strength to march for women’s rights and workers’ rights and civil rights and voting rights and gay rights and immigration rights.”

It was the first time “immigration rights” had been included in the president’s familiar riff on civil principles, and the first time Obama has used the phrase outside the context of referring to “immigration-rights activists.”

The statement, seemingly delivered off the cuff, is the latest indication of Obama laying the groundwork for unilateral executive action that could defer prosecutions for millions who arrived in the United States illegally.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is expected to give Obama recommendations for action by the end of the summer. Activists believe the President is preparing to extend the deferred action program to millions, but the timing of the actions is uncertain given November’s midterm elections.

Speaking to a boisterous union crowd Monday, Obama criticized congressional Republicans for blocking efforts to raise the minimum wage. “Not only is it not right,” Obama said, “it ain’t right.” “I’m not asking for the moon, I just want a good deal for American workers,” Obama said.

Obama also plugged union membership, which has steadily declined in recent decades, saying that if he was “busting my butt in the service industry” or was a police officer he would join a union to secure higher wages and job protections.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser