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President Obama Issues Challenge on Immigration Reform, Key to “Winning the Future”

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During the first half of his State of the Union address last night, President Obama argued that “winning the future” would be impossible without fixing immigration. He made the case for both the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, and challenged the new Republican leadership to step up to the plate to find real solutions:

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.

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According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

In the overall speech last night, President Obama captured the heart of American exceptionalism and the can-do spirit of the American people.  He staked out a centrist agenda that challenges both parties to find common ground on solutions to some of this country’s most important problems.  We are very pleased that the President included immigration in that agenda, and join in his call for action now.  With a strong majority of Democrats already on record supporting the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the Republican Party has to decide whether it will work with the President and congressional Democrats on a bipartisan solution, or continue to obstruct progress, oppose the DREAM Act and comprehensive reform, and brand the Party as anti-Latino and anti-immigrant in the process.

The President’s challenge stands in sharp contrast to today’s initial volley on immigration from House Republicans.  The House Immigration Subcommittee—with Reps. Lamar Smith, Elton Gallegly, and Steve King at the helm—is launching a series of hearings to challenge the Administration, push enforcement-only legislation, and define the Republican Party as favoring mass deportation.  Senate Republicans and 2012 presidential candidates should view their actions with concern.  Following the policies and strategies of Smith, Gallegly, and King is the reason the GOP has done so poorly with Latino voters in recent elections.  Unless some reasonable Republicans in the Senate provide a credible alternative to the Smith-Gallegly-King approach, by working with the President and Senate Democrats, the pattern is destined to repeat itself in the 2012 elections.

On the upside, there is a way forward on immigration reform during this Congress.  It started last night with the President’s challenge, but it requires a bipartisan breakthrough in the Senate.  

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already having announced that immigration reform will be a top priority for the Senate in the 112th Congress, the question, according to Sharry, becomes:

Will any Senate Republicans stand up to the extremists in the House and lead their Party forward on an issue of huge national importance and huge political consequences?