Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the (Immigration) Union


President Obama delivered the State of the Union Speech last night.  (For the CNN video and a transcript, click here.).  His focus was on the U.S. economy but, much like last year's State of the Union, he made a couple of fleeting -- and, in the end, disappointing -- references to immigration:

"That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here."

"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."

Some observers of the President's speech quickly commented that words are not enough on immigration reform.  Like last year, words without detailed proposals, hard work, and political action will not result in immigration reform.  Admittedly, the repeated failure of congressional passage of immigration reform and the DREAM Act, along with the steady increase in detentions, deportations, and border enforcement, have been deeply disappointing for those who had hoped that the Obama administration would bring improvements to the U.S. immigration system.  The State of the Union address only reminds us of that disappointment with little real hope for reform.

Even though focusing on the economy, the President could have emphasized in detail as one blogger suggested before the speech, rather than the ever-so-brief suggesting, that

--  immigrant entrepreneurs, businesses, and investors can help the U.S. economy rebound;

--  foreign students and researchers can help our universities and colleges and promote innovation in the American marketplace;

--  immigrants have and can revitalize depressed urban areas and cities and they pay taxes;

--   immigrant workers can contribute labor, skills, and tax revenues to the U.S. economy; and

--  anti-immigrant measures at the state and local level cost millions to defend in court and hurt, not help, state and local economies and communities.  If an example is necessary, take a look at what has happened in Arizona over the last year.

Before the global economic downturn, the European Union, which had engaged in the grand experiment of integrating national economies and labor markets, had seen great economic successes.  Now, with the United States raising the drawbridge, nations other than the United States are successfully competing for graduate students, researchers, innovators, and workers.  And our economy has suffered.   

The bottom line is that immigration should not be viewed in isolation but as an an integral part of what makes up U.S. society, the U.S. economy, and the very fabric of America.  President Obama and our political leaders must remind the nation of that and in fact do something more than include a few words in a speech to meaningfully address the various issues that need to be addressed in the current U.S. immigration system.


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