During his state of the union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama advocated for Congress to consider providing relief for undocumented students who were brought here illegally by their parents, a concept covered in the Dream Act legislation.
Though he spent most of his one-hour speech focusing on job growth, improving education, partisan politics and cutting federal spending, Obama took nearly two minutes to address immigration and border issues in the middle of the speech. You can listen to it at 24:40 of this audio recording posted by NPR and here is the part from the official transcript:
“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 they 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. And 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. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let's agree to make that effort. And let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.”
The fact that Obama took time to promote the Dream Act is significant because he had not done this previously on such a large stage. During his 2010 state of the union address, Obama didn’t address the Dream Act concept at all and devoted even less time to immigration and border issues, saying only this:
“. . . we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system -– to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”
During his first speech to Congress as President on Feb. 24, 2009, he didn’t mention immigration or the border even once.
But his decision to talk about the Dream Act Tuesday is another indication that the measure is clearly a priority of his administration. His remarks come on the heels of press conferences held in late 2010 by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss the benefits of the Dream Act. And in his year-end news conference in December, Obama said his biggest regret about the recent lame-duck session of Congress was the defeat of the Dream Act.
The measure has been proposed many times in recent years and rejected each time, so simply mentioning it in his state of the union speech won't ensure its passage. But, it certainly makes it an issue to watch in 2011.