Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The State of the Union: Seven Years of Unfilled Promises on Immigration Reform

Did this year's State of the Union address sound all too familiar?

Since 2004, President Bush mentioned immigration reform in every State of the Union address. However, those remarks and not a change to the nation's broken immigration system may remain his only legacy on immigration, according to commentators (Washington Post).

A Walk down Memory Lane: Immigration in the State of the Union Address

Over the past four years, the President spoke consistently about an immigration system that reflects the nation's values, a temporary worker program, and border enforcement measures. "America's immigration system is also outdated - unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country," the President stated in his 2005 address.

Last year, President Bush pressed Congress to reach an agreement on immigration policy. "Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate, so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law," he said.

This year, the President failed to press Congress to address immigration, and side-stepped the issue expressing that it is, "complicated, but can be resolved." This tacit observation by the outgoing President is surely a message for the next administration since it will have to lead the policy discourse on this critical domestic concern, a perspective shared with some members of Congress.

As he also pointedly remarked during his address, "Yet, history will record that amid our differences, we acted with purpose." Unfortunately, the White House and Congressional leaders did not hammer out clear, rationale or long-term solutions. Instead, an increasing number of punitive and enforcement-focused measures were at the core of the Bush Administration's immigration principles.

Looking Ahead: A "Sensible and Humane" Approach Long Overdue

Four years ago, when the President sought the public's support for immigration reform, he specified that a temporary worker program would include "a path to citizenship for those that respect the law." However, since then he has never mentioned a path to citizenship in his subsequent State of the Union addresses to the nation.

This year, and for the first time, the President specified support for a "sensible and humane" way to address the situation of immigrants living and working in the U.S. without employment authorization. Looking ahead, Congressional leaders will need to arrive at the bipartisan negotiating table with clarity and vision that helps bring the immigration discourse to a fruitful conclusion and which ultimately leads to sensible policies and humane legislation.

Outgoing President Bush has failed to press Congress for a resolution this year. This current situation, however, has not deterred immigrant and refugee communities in their continued efforts to advocate for tangible results which end the broken record of promises, fix the nation's outdated immigration system, keeps families together and leads to an economically vibrant and inclusive nation for all.