Yesterday, President Obama addressed the issue of immigration reform in his State of the Union speech.
“We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system to secure our borders, enforce our laws and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”
Many in the immigration movement expected a more hard hitting message from the President who has appointed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to lead a bipartisan task force to address the issue – a message that focused on a path to citizenship, fair and just enforcement, family reunification, and workers rights. This mention seemed to indicate a movement by the administration to not lead but rather support immigration reform led by Congress. But not only should the President show strong leadership on the issue because immigration reform is a campaign promise, but also because it is the right and smart thing to do from many standpoints, including an economic one. Our immigration system is broken. Thousands are detained everyday in miserable conditions leading to senseless deaths. Families are separated all over the country. Immigration enforcement is stricken with racial profiling and due process violations.
He (the President) did not go far enough for the four million American citizen children whose parents face deportation; the millions of Americans waiting to be reunited with loved ones overseas; hardworking Americans whose security is undermined in the workplace; or the $1.5 trillion lacking from our Gross Domestic Product, all in the absence of real reform.
Though he clearly supports the notion that our laws must reflect the contributions immigrants have made to literally build this country, it is clear to me that Congress cannot wait for the President to lay out our timeline for comprehensive reform.
And there are many who expect more.
12 million undocumented immigrants deserved more than those 38 words. “Continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system.” Does that imply that Congress or the White House have been already busy fixing our broken immigration system? Yes, Department of Homeland Security has been tweaking the system, re-examining Bush-era diktats, looking at the conditions of detention centers. But that’s not fixing a broken system, it’s not even duct taping it. That is just sweeping at the edges with a fly whisk.
There is a broad coalition that supports immigration reform including labor unions, immigration advocates, and faith leaders. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. And even though more and more studies are revealing the economic benefits of reform, it’s going to be a tough fight ahead.