State of Union Address Fails on Immigration Reform

The state of our immigrant union is dismal.

Barack Obama was elected on a platform for change last year. More than a year after his Inauguration, things still look the same for most immigrant families in the United States. And we are tired of being “strung along” on the broken change bandwagon.

One year after his re-election, Obama has failed to deliver on his promise of reforming the broken immigration system with comprehensive solutions. Last night during the State of the Union address, Obama only mentioned the broken immigration system in passing, framing it in the language of “law and order.” Furthermore, he said nothing about getting the job done this year. Fail.

The POTUS spent most of his speech talking about creating jobs and economic growth, while never addressing how immigration reform can be a stimulus for the economy. He ironically extols the values that enables us to exist as a nation of immigrants, but continues to break up immigrant families without batting an eyelash.

Secure communities programs continue to make our communities insecure. Under his watch, the Department of Homeland Security expanded 287(g) programs, giving local and state law enforcement officials the authority to act as enforcers of immigration law, thereby providing them legal means to conduct racial profiling. With a small slap on the wrist, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other copycat cowboys flaunt the law and continue to terrorize immigrants.

The candidate who assured immigrant youth on the campaign trail that the DREAM Act is something that could be done immediately and that it was going to be one of his top priorities, completely retreats from the topic as POTUS. Except for a few cases, the Department of Homeland Security still continues to deport immigrant youth who have lived here most of their lives. Put that down as another F.

President Obama has remained silent while candidate Obama backed away from the same-sex binational couples bill, the Uniting American Families Act, citing the need for more mechanisms against fraudulent marriages. Do note that Senator Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill.

Extraordinary rendition of immigrants continues in our detention system. Time and again, the Obama Administration promised changes to our horrible detention system with alternatives to detention. The Assistant Secretary of DHS, John Morton recently made more promises to lay out some much-needed changes, but promises are like empty cannon when people are dying in detention and families do not know where their loved ones are caged. In the meantime, private prisons are still churning out profits and looking at “significant growth” in the future.

Speaking of growth, was there any mention of the despicable Guantanamo Bay detention center that Obama had promised to close within a year of taking office and now transformed into a bigger facility to keep refugees as well? Nada.

To be fair, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped conducting massive public raids that incited fear in our communities. But the more dangerous silent raids on our homes persist and the large raids moved to our workplaces.

Obama implied that the work to fix the broken immigration system had already begun, probably referring to an end to the HIV-travel ban, the widow penalty. and granting TPS to Haitian immigrants. But if ICE detaining 32,000 people in a day and the Obama Administration deporting over 200,000 people annually is “working to fix the broken immigration system,” Obama must stop working now.

Comprehensive immigration reform seems to be off the agenda for now, regardless of what many “immigrant rights” groups tout in their rather hyped and happening press releases today. The thinking in Washington DC is that while we are working on a bill behind closed doors, there should be little to no negativity surrounding the lack of support from the President on immigration reform. But since when has the oppressor willingly given freedom to the oppressed through backdoor deals?

We should see a Senate bill soon, but whether Congress and the President put all their energy into getting it passed this year is another story for another day. Latinos voted for change when they voted for President Obama. But we should also act like we are hungry for change, rather than sit on our laurels expecting things to fall into place.

For Obama, if this type of failure continues well into 2010, many disgruntled voters will just stay at home come midterm-elections and Democrats will lose more seats due to their unwillingness to pass legislation of great importance to immigrant communities, a growing part of their base.

That is one change we can all believe in.

Photo Credit: pixel8design

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