A project of the Center for Community Change

state of the union

State of the Union: Disappointment and Determination

Last night, along with many of you, I tuned into President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address. While I was genuinely interested to hear the President speak on the full scope of the issues facing our country right now – and there are many – I was, of course, especially interested to hear what he would say about immigration reform. More pointedly, I wanted to know if he would say anything at all.

Towards the end of the speech, word 6,300 of 7,000 total to be exact, President Obama did mention immigration.

“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.”

While I was glad that the issue was mentioned and that the President noted the current system is broken, I think I speak for many passionate immigrant rights and immigration reform advocates when I say I was more than a little disappointed.

After words of commitment at key times, after the Latino and New American vote helped put him into office, after months of  lip service to the idea of just and humane reform, after years(s) of hard work and organizing, after flexing our political muscles on the Hill, in the streets and across the country, we deserve more.

As Maegan at VivirLatino pointed out, last night was a missed opportunity to demonstrate to the American public why immigration reform is inextricably linked to the other major issues facing our country.

He failed, as so many do, in pointing out where health care reform and immigration reform intersect.

And where the economy and immigration reform intersect and where immigration reform and jobs intersect. At one point, the President said:

“In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency.”

And it’s time that government produce an immigration system that matches the country’s decency too. Too many people are suffering right now at the hands of this broken system, for it to just be a passing thought in laying out the domestic agenda.

So, where do we go from here? For those of us who remain committed to seeing this through in 2010, for those of us who refuse to believe that last night was the “death knell” for reform?

First, we organize. We keep knocking on doors, holding town halls, protesting in the streets and marching on Washington. We win hearts and minds and political power the old-fashioned way: through action.

Second, we keep the pressure on Congress. Today alone, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly stated the Senate’s commitment to immigration reform, Senator Chuck Schumer noted that progress is being made on the legislation he is currently drafting and Rep. Luis Gutierrez took it to the blogosphere to remind Congress that the responsibility rests squarely on their shoulders:

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 time-line for comprehensive reform.

Third, we raise the stakes. We start demanding reform, rather than asking. It is clear that Congress is still more swayed by their fear of the political complexity of this issue than they are of the power of the immigration reform movement and the political power of the Latino and immigrant electorate. Its time to change that.

In the next few months, there are some big things planned, including a large-scale march on Washington, DC on March 21st. Its time to show Congress that we WILL hold them accountable and its time to force President Obama to take the leadership he promised on this issue.

With this said, it’s worth noting that using one speech as the barometer for the likelihood of a huge issue’s success or lack thereof is probably not the best approach to take. While I will admit that I was disappointed and a bit disheartened last night, it has only stoked the fire of my commitment to see this issue through in a real and tangible way.

But determining the future of immigration reform on a “word count” in the State of the Union address is bad strategy. Instead, immigration advocates should keep Presidential promises in perspective, redouble their efforts and continue to hold Congress’s feet to the fire.

Who’s with me?

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