Analysis: Nothing New on Immigration Reform in State of the Union, But You Can Speak Out

President Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, Courtesy Flickr/Jatkins)

Any small distraction—a text message from your mother, the neighbor’s dog barking—would have been enough to cause you to miss the oh-so-fleeting references to immigration reform in President Obama’s State of the Union address and the GOP response that followed.

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It’s not as if both parties aren’t under intense pressure to deal with immigration.  The presence of some 11-million undocumented immigrants in the country poses political risks for all sides.   But at the start of an election year, and with other issues including the economy and health care reform taking center stage, neither party felt the need or desire to talk about U.S. immigration laws in anything but the most general terms.

Even if they didn’t say much on Tuesday night, the issue is still there, simmering away.  One of the biggest questions is whether immigrants who are in the country without legal papers will be granted a path to citizenship.  Or will they be given another type of status that lets them work in the U.S. legally, but does not permit them to vote?

It’s this voting business that’s at the heart of the matter.  “11-million voters” has a different ring to it than 11-million undocumented immigrants.  But the right to vote is slowly being separated from the story of what it means to make it as an immigrant in this country, to achieve the so-called “American Dream.”

Lawmakers—virtually all Republicans—who resist the idea of offering immigrants a path to citizenship are being joined by growing ranks of immigrants. They tell pollsters that citizenship is less important to them than just being able to work legally in the U.S.

At Feet in 2 Worlds we are exploring this shift in attitudes towards citizenship and in what it means to achieve the American Dream.  Even if the folks in Washington aren’t talking about this, you can.  Take our poll and join the conversation.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

AboutJohn Rudolph
John Rudolph, Executive Producer, is a journalist with more than 40 years experience as a public radio program host and producer of documentaries, podcasts and news reports. John produced the award-winning documentary Feet in Two Worlds: Immigrants in a Global City, which was the debut for the Feet in 2 Worlds project.