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Immigration rights groups split on President’s speech

State of the Union

Immigration rights groups were split on President Obama’s succinct remarks on immigration reform in his State of the Union address on Jan. 24, with some applauding them and others calling for more action.

Immigration issues didn’t take center stage in the president’s address, giving way to financial issues like tax reform and infrastructure development. His comments on immigration centered on the DREAM Act that would allow the children of illegal aliens to remain in the U.S. to get an education.

“Let's also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation,” said Obama. “Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else,” he said. “That doesn't make sense.”

The president noted that his administration has “put more boots on the border than ever before” and there were fewer illegal aliens crossing the border now than when he took office.

Although he called for “comprehensive immigration reform” and bid Congress to avoid election-year politics and pass comprehensive immigration legislation, he returned to the DREAM Act as a central theme.

“But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away,” said.

The remarks left at least on immigrants’ rights group cold.

"We are disappointed the President had so little to say about immigration, a topic that is central to the country's future,” said Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.  “President Obama has become known for the dissonance between his rhetoric and reality on immigration.  In a few short sentences, tonight's speech showed the President's strained attempt to straddle two opposites that cannot be bridged,” he said.  “He cannot pay lip service to legalization while backing policies that criminalize immigrants.  He cannot offer the Dream Act to students and deportations to their parents. “

Another group was heartened by the speech.

“The President was right in stressing the importance of fixing our immigration system,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “The urgency for action on immigration cannot be overstated. Tonight’s remarks come at a time of real pain and suffering in the immigrant community. Undocumented immigrants feel under siege by record deportations and an increasing number of harsh state-based immigration laws, some that go as far as denying access to basic water service for undocumented immigrants.”