culture shockers: Obama’s bittersweet immigration speech

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

We want to commend President Obama for taking an enormous step to talk about the immigration debate as openly and honestly as he felt he could. He shared what many of us who work tirelessly on the issue have known for some time – “this is a nation of immigrants.” He talked about how immigration has made America the place that it is and that our diversity is an asset.  He made the powerful statement:

“These women, and men and women across this country… remind us that immigrants have always helped to build and defend this country -– and that being an American is not a matter of blood or birth.  It’s a matter of faith.  It’s a matter of fidelity to the shared values that we all hold so dear.  That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what makes us strong.  Anybody can help us write the next great chapter in our history.”

He also shared that each new generation of immigrants has been met with fear and resentment – the Jewish, Irish, Chinese and more. And for acknowledging these things and reminding the public we thank you.

Obama made it clear that there is an urgent need for immigration reform. Our national fervor moved Obama to make his speech, and offer a platform for a public roundtable of questions.

“He thought this was a good time to talk plainly with the American people about his views on immigration,” spokesman Bill Burton said.

And we again thank the President for shedding light on the problems of the legal immigration system. He said:

“The result is an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Many settle in low-wage sectors of the economy; they work hard, they save, they stay out of trouble. But because they live in the shadows, they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses who pay them less than the minimum wage or violate worker safety rules… Crimes go unreported as victims and witnesses fear coming forward…”

“The legal immigration system is as broken as the borders. Backlogs and bureaucracy means the process can take years. While an applicant waits for approval, he or she is often forbidden from visiting the United States –- which means even husbands and wives may be forced to spend many years apart. High fees and the need for lawyers may exclude worthy applicants. And while we provide students from around the world visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities, our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or power a new industry right here in the United States…”

With this, we became somewhat empowered, excited by his public denouncing of the system, but we are a still confused by the direction our nation will take.  We’re not alone, from Brad Bannon of the US News blog: “I would have liked the President’s speech even more if he had proposed a specific plan… I had hoped the President had learned from the healthcare reform battle that to get Congress to act quickly, he needs to give Congress something specific to chew on…”

We are also disheartened by some of the statements he made. He supports the DREAM Act, which grants qualifying undocumented youth with a 6-year-long conditional path to citizenship upon completion of a college degree or two years of military service. However, Obama added, “We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents.”  Here, Obama criminalizes and dehumanizes undocumented parents in our communities.

Rigo Padilla, one of dozens of migrant youth whose deportation Brownhouse has prevented, tweeted in response to Obama’s statement. He wrote, “My parents made no mistake.”

The President also used the term “illegal,” with reference to immigrants which is unnecessary and unacceptable.

Although Obama leaves us with concerns from some of his statements and still unanswered questions, he has made some steps toward immigration reform. This major Presidential speech to Congress is a start. We will see how Washington responds. Learn more about immigration reform and visit Restore Fairness and read a copy of Obama’s speech.

July 1, 2010 by Priya
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1 Comment »

One Response to “culture shockers: Obama’s bittersweet immigration speech”

  • mr. j says:

    Posted: July 1, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    I wasn’t able to catch the speech live. Thanks for the excellent analysis! Was definitely hoping for more from Obama, but I guess this is a start. He really needs to pressure Congress to make changes in the immigration system happen!

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