President Obama used his political leverage during the State of Union speech to address the divided government which makes legislation and progress with immigration reform difficult. Six years ago, President Bush tried passing a comprehensive immigration reform with odd-couple senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy, but the parties weren’t ready at the time for such a drastic change with two wars happening at the same time.
The President chose his language very carefully for the speech when he said, “Real reform means strong border security … Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship—a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.” This strong rhetoric may be intentionally used to get Republicans on board with his plan. The initial framing of border security is an area of policy strength for the Obama administration. The number of convicted criminals deported has increased by 70 percent.
Furthermore the bipartisan “Gang of eight” senators have had much success with their plans and working out the kinks. Among the gang of eight, Sen. Marco Rubio gave the Republican response to the State of the Union and paralleled the President’s points. “We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”
Bystanders replied that the rhetoric of the State of Union was refreshing for its lack of immigration demagoguery. Significant policy differences were not necessarily addressed in the speech, but the Republican response indicates a possible new consensus on immigrants and a new emerging America. The House is still left with 50 or so hardliners, who will in no way, shape or form support any type of comprehensive immigration reform when it comes to the vote. Rubio called on these individuals to take responsibility for the immigration solution and be part of the solution and not the problem.
Time will tell whether the rhetoric translates into meaningful immigration reform.
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