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?

4 responses to “State of the Union: Disappointment and Determination

  1. Robert Gittelson

    Rachel makes her usual great analysis of this issue, and ends by asking the question, “Who’s with me?” Rachel, I am with you. My fellow advocates around the nation are with you. The vast majority of the 37,000,000 immigrants that live in our nation, about 30% of which are undocumented and living the the shadows, fearing a knock on their door in the middle of the night are with you. Almost 70% of the citizens in this country, including over 60% of Republicans are with you. The Unions are with you. The Business community stands with you. The faith community of Catholics, Jews, Evangelicals, Methodists, Muslims, and literally all other faiths are united with you. The people that care about our national security are with you. The people that care about civil rights are with you. The people that demand that our government solve the difficult problems are with you.

    And yet, I too was disheartened by the speech last night. The president can deliver great words, but I am concerned about his ability to deliver great deeds to match thoese words. Frankly, his words on CIR were less than great, and certainly less than clear and decisive. I’m considered by many to be somewhat of an expert on this issue, and I couldn’t tell you what the hell he meant last night.

    However, instead of backing down, I too intend to stand up. We’ve come way, way too far to throw in the towel. That is not an option. I’m not ready to say, “No se puede.”

    Forget about “change we can believe in.” My glass of Koolaid is now half empty. I’m going to re-double my efforts, to promote “change we can deliver!”

  2. Pingback: State of the Union: Disappointment and Determination « Reform Immigration For America

  3. luis g medina

    OK. Let’s do it. Massive action for Massive results. Letters to Congress, emails to Congress, Letters to President Obama, marches, paid lobbyist, media blitz, commercials, dancers, musicians, bands, lets use our massive talents and skills to get the job done. Our “gente” are suffering and it’s our responsibility to respond with massive positive action. Perseverance and we are in it all together. Si se Puede!

  4. Me too….That is not an option. I’m not ready either to say, “No se puede.” SI SE PUEDE!! Together we can make it….

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