Updates on Darfur, Immigration, Gas Prices

April 27, 2006

Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama and today is Thursday, April 27, 2006.

A lot of stuff is going on in Washington right now and so what I want to do is provide you some updates on issues that have been discussed on this podcast before but I think are absolutely critical to focus on right now.

The first is the issue of Darfur. Many of you heard my previous podcast and have been following this issue in the news. We have a situation in which the Sudanese government in Khartoum has backed militias and gangsters that have slaughtered up to 300,000 innocent Africans. We have a situation in which two million or so people are internally displaced in the Sudan, incredibly vulnerable to potential famine, disease and we're now seeing a spillover effect from Sudan into Chad, where you have another 200,000 refugees.

The Bush administration properly labeled this several years ago as an ongoing genocide. The situation has not improved. The world needs to focus its attention on it and America needs to send a message to its leadership that this is a top priority. We need to get a UN protection force in there to protect the two million people who are internally displaced. We've got to start peace talks between the rebels and the Khartoum government that provides some basis for a long-term settlement of disputes there and we have to make sure that humanitarian aid continues.

In the interest of all these issues stopping the genocide in Darfur there are going to be a couple of activities that I hope some of you can attend. Number one: this Sunday, we are going to be holding a rally to save Darfur in the United States Capitol, in Washington. That will be taking place from two o'clock until four o'clock in front of the United States Capitol, between 3rd Streets and 4th Streets. If you are interested in participating, you should get on the website savedarfur.org. That will give you all the details. I'm going to be there and Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor, is going to be there. We're going to have George Clooney there as well as a number of people who have been active on this issue. I hope we can have a strong turnout that sends a message that genocide is not acceptable not only in the United States but the United Nations and the international community have to rally behind these folks. There is also going to be a Chicago rally on May 1, 2006 at 4:30 p.m. in the Federal Plaza in Dearborn and Adams and so for my Chicago listeners or Illinois listeners you can show your support in that fashion if you can't make the rally in Washington.

The second issue I just want to give you an update on is immigration. I met with the President and some of my other colleagues in the West Wing this week to discuss with him where we are on immigration reform. Obviously this is an issue of great passion. It is an issue that has brought together diverse coalitions of people who recognize that we have to change how we approach immigration.

I've been one of they key negotiators in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes something that everybody agrees to: we have to improve border security. It also includes internal enforcement, making sure that employers actually are checking a verifiable, tamper-proof ID card to show that a worker is legally inside the United States to work. But three, that we're providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 to 12 million people who are already in the United States.

There's been a lot of talk on cable and talk radio about amnesty and how we shouldn't allow lawbreakers to become U.S. citizens. The fact of the matter is that these 11 to 12 million people came here for the same reason that every immigrant group has come here and that's a search for a better life for their children. They didn't do it through the regular processes and they should be penalized for that and as a consequence what we've been setting up is an eleven-year process that gives people an opportunity for citizenship but still puts them in the back of the line behind those who are applying legally for citizenship.

Having said that, it is important for us to bring these folks out of the shadows to ensure that they are subject to the same protections that any legal worker has in this country because if we leave them in the shadows, not only are they vulnerable, not only are they living in fear, many of these people are our neighbors, our friends, people who are looking after our children, doing work across the country, some of the dirtiest and toughest work without complaint. But if we don't do anything, these are also folks who can, because of their tenuous status, undercut the wages of U.S. workers. If they're not subject to minimum wage laws, if they're not subject to worker safety laws, if they can't unionize, than naturally their wages are going to be depressed and that means that there is an incentive for employers to hire these workers instead of U.S. citizens. If, on the other hand, they're out of the shadows, they have the same rights and obligations as every other worker who is in this country legally, than they are on even footing in terms of employers making hiring decisions. So don't get caught up in the false rhetoric about amnesty. What we are talking about is an earned pathway to citizenship. Over the course of eleven years, they would have to pay a fine, they would have to learn English, they would have to pay back taxes and they would be behind those who applied here legally. So, they wouldn't' be rewarded for their illegal behavior but we would recognize that our future as a country involves absorbing these people who are already here so we wouldn't have an entire class of second-class citizens.

The third point I want to make is that I know gas prices are high out there. There's been a lot of talk by the both the White House and Congress about how we're going to bring gas prices down. I want to tell people the truth and that is that there aren't a lot of short-term solutions to this problem. We have some bills in the Senate that are calling for the taxing of the windfall profits of the big oil companies who are making out like bandits. I will vote "aye" on a bill like that if it comes through the Senate. I've been active along with other Democrats in pushing to make sure that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating any kind of price-gauging that's taking place in gas stations around the country. But the bottom line is that the United States, which has about 3 percent of the oil reserves in the world consumes 25 percent of the oil, and we're not going to be able to pump our way out of this problem and even if Exxon and Mobile decided they weren't going to make any profits, we'd still have problems because the world's oil market has reached $75 a barrel this week. So we are going to have to think about how we are going to wean ourselves off our dependence on oil. That's a national security imperative because right now we are financing both sides of the war on terrorism by sending billions of dollars to some of the most hostile countries on Earth. It is an economic problem; it makes us extraordinarily vulnerable every time we see price shocks like this and that pressure is just going to continue as China and India grow and scramble for resources. Finally, it's a major contributor to global warming. It's helping us along the path that could lead to an environmental catastrophe that could have an adverse impact for our children and our grandchildren.

I've put together a series of speeches and proposals that are on my website. I would urge everybody to take a look at them; I won't reiterate them now, but a lot of it focuses on increasing fuel efficiency standards and shifting to bio-diesel. I just want everybody to remember as they are putting that $3 a gallon gas in their SUVs that our long-term answer is getting serious about a new energy policy. We have to start making those plans now in a serious way and not just resort to cheap rhetoric whenever the gas prices go up.

I hope that I see some of you at the rallies, either in Washington or in Chicago, about Darfur. I appreciate you listening. Bye-bye.