Vice President Joseph R. Biden, in Panama on Wednesday, announced the easing of immigration policies for Panamanians traveling to the United States and said comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is the Obama administration's top goal.
During a meeting with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Mr. Biden said Panama will be the newest member of the U.S. Global Entry program, which allows travelers to be prescreened in their country of origin and to avoid long immigration lines in the U.S.
"Facilitating the flow of people is good for trade, it's good for tourism, and it's good for relationships between the countries," Mr. Biden said. "It's a reflection of our friendship and our trust in Panama and the Panamanian people."
The vice president said the administration's stalled immigration reform plan, which would grant legal status to about 11 million illegal immigrants, "is the priority for the president and me now."
"It's a matter of simple justice and respect," Mr. Biden told the Panamanian leader. "This is a matter of hemispheric respect, in my view. When we respect your countrymen on our soil, I hope that sends the message as to how we feel — that we respect you and all folks in the hemisphere. And we do."
He said the 11 million illegal immigrants "are not only Hispanic — they represent every part of the world."
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said last week that the chamber won't enter into negotiations with the Senate this year on immigration legislation, effectively ending the prospects for a comprehensive bill. The Senate approved a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Mr. Biden said the push for a comprehensive immigration law is "a matter of naked self-interest," noting that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Senate bill would boost economic output in the U.S. by $1.4 trillion over a decade.
The vice president joked with Mr. Martinelli about his presidential prospects in 2016. When the Panamanian leader said that Mr. Biden is "going to be running next time,” the vice president replied, "Oh, we'll talk about that."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.