Obama - Heed Immigrant Community Voices: Stop Deportations



In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama stated that he would "take steps without legislation" to move his agenda. With that promise, we urge the President to use his executive initiative to suspend detentions and deportations that are destroying countless immigrant families and undermining the human potential of millions of immigrant men, women and children.

On the 50th anniversary of the famous State of the Union address by then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who outlined the historic "war on poverty," we certainly could have used a more passionate commitment from the President towards a path to justice and dignity.

Obama's reference to immigration reform was brief and general. He talked about heeding the voices of business, labor, and faith leaders and law enforcement to "fix the broken immigration system"--which could mean any combination of policies, good and bad, at this point. He linked immigration reform to economic growth, stating that reform "will grow the economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1trillion in the next two decades." He characterized immigrants as those who come here "to study, invent, and contribute to our culture," who make the US a "more attractive place" for businesses and for job creation. "So let's get mmigration reform done this year," he concluded.

No mention of what immigrant community leaders want, or of the desperation that motivates many immigrants to come here, possibly risk their lives and those of their children, to seek basic economic survival and safety. Nor the undermining of workers' rights, exploitation, rights' abuses, or lack of access to basic benefits and services for many immigrants.

Immigrants and shrinking the deficit? He did not speak about the $46 billion towards border security promised in the Senate-passed immigration bill, money that could be better spent--if he is concerned about economic growth--on human needs and services in the U.S. Southwest. Most importantly, rolling back the investment and practice of border militarization would help to save lives and end the tragic loss of life of desperate border crossers.

Beyond the SOTU, perhaps more significant will be Obama's response to the Republican "principles" on immigration reform that are expected to be released this week. Leaked information on the forthcoming principles includes a potential openness towards some form of legalization, a source of disagreement within Republican ranks. Word has it that Republicans may be willing to accept some limited form of legalization for certain undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen ties or employer sponsorship and/or a limited legal status that will exclude access to citizenship--essentially creating a new class of residents, a very dangerous and unacceptable proposition.

Perhaps it's a good thing that Obama did not dredge up references to national security and border enforcement, but there was also no mention of justice, of obligation to human rights. Certainly no references to the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, in the famous poem by Emma Lazurus,

"...Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We could have used such words of inspiration. But more so, we want the trust that the President will take concrete steps to bring relief to our beleaguered communities.

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