tags: Press Releases

Immigration and the State of the Union: Words are Important, Action is Imperative

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Vanessa Cardenas: “We need action from the administration and Congress – through legislative action and executive action. As President Biden said last night, let’s get it done.”

Washington, DC – During last night’s State of the Union address, President Biden surprised some of us by speaking about an issue this administration has too often avoided: immigration. Below is our take:

  • President Biden did what we have been pleading with him to do: he leaned in. The American public supports the Democratic vision on immigration and the border over the Republican vision. Americans overwhelmingly support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Yet as we’ve seen in recent months, Democrats lose ground when they avoid the issue and let the right wing define the debate. As a political communications expert said to us recently, you can’t win a debate if only one side is making arguments. Last night, Biden showed how to do it. He met the majority where it is, spoke of practical ways to improve a broken system, and stated strong support for immigrants, immigration, and long-overdue policy solutions. Of course, we would have said it differently and we would have announced concrete actions. But we’re pleased the President leaned in, and for Democrats in tough races this fall, we believe he offered up a rough draft of a political template when the inevitable nativist attacks come at them from a GOP animated by hostility towards immigrants and immigration.
  • Words are important, action is imperative. President Biden and Democrats need to deliver immigration breakthroughs, not just immigration remarks. During the immigration section of last night’s address, President Biden hit many of the right notes. But he did not lay out a strategy for getting his promises enacted. He can call on Congress to act (either through the parliamentarian or around the parliamentarian) and he can use executive action. In particular, the executive branch has clear statutory authority to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for those who can’t return to their home countries due to war, violence, and natural disasters. Today’s announcement that the Biden administration has designated TPS for Sudan and redesignated and extended TPS for South Sudan is a welcome step. He should build on it.  
  • While Democrats embrace immigrants and common sense policies, Republicans embrace xenophobia, cruelty, and conspiracy theories. Republican attacks on Biden’s immigration record are a centerpiece of their messaging, and many in the GOP are trying to mainstream dangerous conspiracy theories about “invasions” and “replacement theory.” This kind of hate speech has proven to have deadly consequences (see Pittsburgh and El Paso). Last night Biden chose to soothe ruffled feathers on immigration rather than draw contrasts. But Democratic candidates, when attacked by radical Republicans spouting lies and conspiracies, should take the opportunity to point out that Republicans want to rid the country of essential workers who keep us safe and fed, are spewing the tropes of fascist authoritarianism, and rather than standing for an inclusive multiracial democracy where what you contribute matters, not where you were born, the color of your skin, or the accent you speak with, they want to keep our neighbors and coworkers down and out.

According to Vanessa Cardenas, Deputy Director of America’s Voice,

President Biden leaned in and articulated a workable vision for immigration reform last night. It includes legalizing TPS holders, essential workers, and Dreamers. We welcome this call, but need more than words. We need action from the administration and Congress – through legislative action and executive action. As President Biden said last night, let’s get it done. Likewise, we need courage and confidence from Democratic candidates this fall. Democrats can make immigration a winning issue if they take meaningful action this year and embrace the solutions they support this fall.

Excerpted immigration remarks from President Biden’s State of the Union address as prepared for delivery:

“[I]f we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure the Border and fix the immigration system. 

We can do both. At our border, we’ve installed new technology like cutting-edge scanners to better detect drug smuggling.  

We’ve set up joint patrols with Mexico and Guatemala to catch more human traffickers.  

We’re putting in place dedicated immigration judges so families fleeing persecution and violence can have their cases heard faster. 

We’re securing commitments and supporting partners in South and Central America to host more refugees and secure their own borders. 

We can do all this while keeping lit the torch of liberty that has led generations of immigrants to this land—my forefathers and so many of yours. 

Provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers. 

Revise our laws so businesses have the workers they need and families don’t wait decades to reunite. 

It’s not only the right thing to do—it’s the economically smart thing to do. 

That’s why immigration reform is supported by everyone from labor unions to religious leaders to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

Let’s get it done once and for all.”