Deporting illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children would violate the spirit of the civil rights movement, President Obama said ahead of his trip to Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
"The notion that some kid that was brought here when he was two or three years old might somehow be deported at the age of 20 or 25, even though they’ve grown up as American, that's not who we are," he said during an interview air Friday on Sirius XM’s “Urban View” with Joe Madison.
"That’s not true to the spirit of what the march on Selma was about."
Obama’s effort to link the plight of illegal immigrants to the civil rights movement comes amid a roiling legal battle over his executive actions last year to defer deportations and provide work permits to millions of illegal immigrants.
A federal judge halted the executive actions earlier this month, forcing the Obama administration to freeze the programs while the appeals process plays out.
Republican lawmakers have derided the deportation delays as “amnesty,” and fought unsuccessfully this month to reverse them through a funding bill for Homeland Security.
Obama said the executive action he took in 2012 to defer deportations for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children comports with the lessons from the Selma marches about an “inclusive America.”
"When you think about the principle that was upheld that day and in subsequent days at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, it was the promise of an inclusive America, it was the promise of an America where everybody was equal under the law," he said.
Obama also linked the Selma march to the fight for gay rights, saying that, at its core, the civil rights movement was about affirming the "basic principle [that] we treat people fairly."
"One of the great reasons we celebrate that day of the civil rights movement, and we celebrate the march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, is that it didn't just open up the doors for black folks … it was about America and who we are," he said.
"And that's a legacy we have to be proud of, but we have to understand what that spirit was about, it wasn’t just about one race, it was about who all of us are as Americans."