Muted Hope After Obama’s Immigration Speech

The president delivered his speech in Las Vegas. (Image from whitehouse.gov)

On Tuesday, January 29, President Obama delivered a speech in Las Vegas on immigration reform, a topic of high priority to much of the community and ethnic press, who published reaction to the much anticipated announcement.

The president “called for fast congressional action on a bill that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, increased border and workplace enforcement and new avenues for legal immigration,” reported Colorlines.

The online publication noted that Obama “claimed as accomplishments his track record of record numbers of deportation and expanded border security.” But for Colorlines it’s hardly an “accomplishment.” As the publication frequently notes, the Obama administration has deported around 400,000 people each year, more than any other president.

“The President should immediately follow his speech with an order suspending deportations as the first step to open a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” said Pablo Alvarado, the director of the National Day Laborers Network, in a statement. “Demonstrating that all 11 million undocumented people deserve the same relief given to the Dreamers will set the debate in the right direction and remove divisions between ‘us and them’.”

Gay City News said in an editorial from editor Paul Schindler that Obama “did what a bipartisan group of US senators failed to do the day before.”

He included equality for same-sex couples in the immigration reform framework he released. In a 2,200-word-plus “fact sheet” released by the White House in tandem with a major address the president delivered in Las Vegas, the section titled “Keeping Families Together” states that Obama’s proposal “treats same-sex families as families by giving US citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

On January 28, the eight-member group of senators, which included Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), presented a plan that would provide a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants as well as increase border security. However, Gay City News pointed out, the memorandum failed to include anything on giving same-sex binational couples the same rights as different-sex couples in the same situation, namely the ability to give the non-U.S. citizen partner permanent residency.

Irish Central reported that Irish groups are “cautiously optimistic” that legislation could finally go through that would legalize the tens of thousands of undocumented Irish in the country. When addressing the history of immigration in the United States, Obama highlighted the Irish.

“If you’re Irish you left behind a land of famine,” Obama said, adding that early immigrants had to endure racism and other adverse conditions but were determined to persevere.

Irish groups, like the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, were glad that immigration reform was finally being put in the spotlight but kept their optimism reserved.

“We are pleased that the Senate has once again taken up the issue and that a path to legalization exists for all undocumented,” said Ciaran Staunton, president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR).

“But we have to make sure that we have a future flow of visas for the Irish, who were badly disadvantaged by the 1965 Immigration Act. If we don’t do that, then we’ll have future generations of Irish here who will be undocumented, and that’s a fact.”

Given the opposition of conservative Republicans to immigration reform, Staunton refrains from too much faith given past efforts by Congress.

“We’ve been here before with the Kennedy-McCain bill,” Staunton said, referring to the 2007 effort that failed to pass the Senate, even though it had bipartisan support and President George W. Bush backing it.

“We’re optimistic this time because President Obama is so strongly in support, but there’s a long way to go.”

Meanwhile, Mexican community organizations in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn saw the speech as the first step in immigration reform. In response, reports Diario de México, they have set up free workshops to advise immigrants on what to consider when looking to obtain a green card.

“In the past, we’ve seen that in the immigration process, there are two requirements necessary to qualify: the first is to have a clean record, or a history free of crime, and the second is to have complied with paying taxes to the IRS,” said lawyer Jesús J. Peña.

For thousands of immigrants, those two requirements will serve as the biggest challenges, as even misdemeanors such as a traffic violation would be a road block on the path to legalization.

To avoid any confusion, Asociación Tepeyac and La Unión are offering advice and consultation. Free workshops will be given on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the corner of East Houston Street and Avenue D, in Lower Manhattan and Fridays at 6025 Sixth Avenue, Room 221 in Brooklyn.

“People need to put in order their identification documents, electricity bills, rent bills and tax payments,” said financial adviser Teresa Garcia.

Politicians and organizations aside, immigration reform comes down to the people involved – the immigrants in this country, and their family and friends. The Epoch Times covered a watch party in Queens, organized by immigrant advocate group Make the Road New York, and asked immigrants for their reaction to Obama’s speech.

Maria Elena praises immigration reform for the potential to unify families. (Photo by Deborah Yun/The Epoch Times)

Maria Elena, a citizen originally from Colombia, was hopeful in what reform would bring for families:

“I feel very happy because I think this is the time, I think so many people have been waiting a long time, families are separated for a long time. I think it’s time for them to live free.”

“I want to see everyone who lives in this country to feel free to work and to stay together with their families.”

Katherine Tabares, also from Colombia, is delighted about the possibility for immigration reform in the near future, especially as a political science major.

“I’m very excited because I see it is possible that we can pass the comprehensive immigration reform that can benefit not just students but also our families and also taking into consideration students like me who have been here for less than 5 years. I feel very happy that [Obama] is really thinking about giving the opportunity to us because we have the potential to offer this country so many things, so many ideals, we just need the opportunity. I am doing Political Science right now but I am hoping to be a lawyer in a couple of years. I am very hopeful, excited, and I’m always putting 110 percent of myself because I feel like this is my home.”

Finally, in an immigration column in Amsterdam News, writer Felicia Persaud addresses a letter to President Obama, in which she calls for immigration reform using the examples of two immigrant success stories involved in his inauguration – designers Jason Wu and Naeem Khan, who each created dresses worn by Michelle Obama during the event. They came as young adults to the United States, and represent examples of Obama’s message of “enlisting bright, young students and engineers in our workforce, rather than expelling them from our country.” And then there’s Oscar de la Renta, born in the Dominican Republic, and who designed outfits for Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

All three immigrant designers represent a fraction of many immigrants in these United States who continue to make significant contributions to this country. Among the 11 million-plus undocumented are also young Wus, Khans and de la Rentas, who will go on to greatness. Isn’t it time we use these immigrants’ success stories to truly make the case for immigration reform now, so that the dreamers and those living in the shadows can truly achieve their dreams and go on to make more significant contributions to this country? Let’s quit the speeches and get a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate now!

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  1. Pingback: Muted Hope in NYC After Obama’s Immigration Speech : One Caribbean Radio | The Global Mix

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