"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country" - President Obama, Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013.
In one simple and lofty sentence, President Obama made a commitment to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority. Again. He has enacted some positive measures on behalf of the immigration community. He allowed ICE to use discretion to deport those that pose a real threat to American society. He finally created a provisional waiver for families that have been truly afraid of not coming back to the United States if they leave for an immigrant visa interview abroad. He created a program for the immigrant youth who were brought to the United States, through no fault of their own, to stay in the United States with a work permit, provided they contribute to American society.
However, as I've written in the past, President Obama has some dark blemishes on his record – mainly, hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were deported or forced to leave the United States. The cost was unimaginable in terms of the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters who were separated from loved ones.
True, he is the executive branch, and has been sworn to execute and uphold the laws of the United States. Accordingly, he must enforce immigration law. Nevertheless, he did not fight for immigration reform during his first term. He let that possibility evaporate in Congress, especially the Dream Act.
However, he showed he intended for comprehensive immigration reform to be a major priority of his second term by promoting the few without congressional approval. It appears the latino and immigrant electorate forgave him for his record. After all, he was occupied with two wars, a free-falling economy, health care, and the rise of an obstructionist Tea Party.
Will he be able to deliver? Nobody knows. What I do know is that there is a tangible discussion beginning on immigration reform. Why? Immigrants voted. Latinos voted. If there is no solution passed to address this broken system, the party that will be blamed has much to lose in the next election in two years and the presidential election in four years.
I have been skeptical of any push for reform in the past ten years. Last month, Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women’s Act bill. Think about this – there are victims of domestic violence, who have been abused physically, sexually, emotionally, and psychologically – and Congress could not reauthorize this bill because political differences remained too great for compromise. This is modern-day Washington.
Still, the president has a bully pulpit – and it appears he means to use it to get Congress to take action. On January 21, 2013, the LA Times reported that David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president, that the “president will push forward with immigration reform early on – possibly as soon as the State of the Union speech in three weeks.”
State of the Union speeches have sometimes captivated the American public. Normally, they are long, drawn-out, and self-congratulatory. Yet, this one should captivate every immigrant. Surely, he will have more to say than one sentence about reform. Surely, he will announce that it is time to invite every immigrant to be a full member of society, rather than a second-class citizen living in fear. Surely, he will give hope. I hope he can be audacious. I hope.