In State of the Union, President Obama Asks Congress to Face Immigration Issues

President Obama delivering his 2011 State of the Union address - Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

President Obama delivering his 2011 State of the Union address. (Photo: Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)

President Obama surprised us here at Feet in Two Worlds with his significant words on immigration reform in the State of the Union address last night. A year ago in January, when the outlook for immigration reform seemed much brighter, the President only made room for just one line about the issue.

“We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system—to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”

But this year, following what many considered a devastating defeat—the failure of the DREAM Act in the Senate—Obama made it clear that the fight for immigration reform is not over:

“One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.”

Those two paragraphs are particularly noteworthy in light of the House Immigration Subcommittee’s first hearing of the session this Wednesday, under a new, enforcement-only oriented leadership.

The President also referred to the ethnic diversity of the U.S. armed forces, in which there are more than 65,000 immigrants.

“Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.”

Plus, coming off a year where ugly rhetoric beleaguered Islam in America, the President made clear his feelings about Muslim Americans.

“And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.”

The President’s inclusion of these issues may reassure immigration reform advocates. When Feet in Two Worlds’ Mohsin Zaheer attended a forum on immigration reform on Monday night in New York City, many labor and community leaders were disillusioned about reform’s chances in the second half of Obama’s presidency:

What did you think of the speech? Post your comments here on Feet in Two Worlds.

Mohsin Zaheer is a Feet in Two Worlds political reporting fellow.  His work, and the work of other Fi2W fellows, is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.