Obama’s State of the Union: Eleven Sentences too Short

By Raul Rodriguez

As President Obama delivered his third State of the Union Address, the 11 sentences he dedicated to addressing my current immigration status did little to instill in me any more optimism than did similar statements from the last State of the Union… or the one before that.

“Let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country,” Obama stated. “Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”

With that, Obama put the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act – which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students like me – back on the table.

But I wasn’t completely convinced. That’s because the optimistic picture Obama painted of the future of America doesn’t seem to include me.

As my graduation looms, the reality of being undocumented becomes increasingly stark. Unlike my U.S.-citizen classmates, I won’t be able to do basic things, not the least of which is working legally.

As the president spoke, among the coterie sitting next to the president’s wife was Juan Rose Redín, a former DREAM student who attended UCLA and is now a practicing attorney and U.S. citizen. His case demonstrates how an undocumented student can become an integral part of reinvigorating the American work force.

There are thousands of us.

Yet listening to the president lay out his “blueprint” for building “an economy that’s built to last,” I couldn’t help but think of friends with degrees in civil engineering or education, recent graduates and fellow DREAMers with the skills needed to energize domestic manufacturing and bolster the creation of green jobs.

But because of their immigration status, they remain in the shadows.

Of course the DREAM Act alone wouldn’t solve the problem.

If approved, the DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for only a select group of undocumented high school graduates who have enrolled in college or the military, and meet certain requirements. For example, they must have come to the United States before the age of 16, lived here for at least five years, be within a certain age group, and have “good moral character.”

But more undocumented students would be excluded from this than would actually benefit under the legislation. A Migration Policy Institute report found that although 2.1 million young people could potentially be eligible to benefit from the DREAM Act, in reality only about 825,000 would likely gain legal status under the bill.

With the niche population the federal DREAM Act targets, it would seem more of a moderate compromise capable of attaining bipartisan support, yet not even Democrats were able to gather the needed votes to pass the bill during the lame duck session in 2010.

Left with little sign of a possible vote this year, combined with a record number of deportations under the Obama administration (including DREAM Act students), the president’s speech seemed more aimed at garnering campaign support than enacting substantive change.

I am a supporter of our current president. However, the continuous stream of political rhetoric without clear action has slowly begun to eat away at me.

“The opponents of action are out of excuses,” he said. “We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.”
Agreed. But Republican lawmakers continue to throw up what Obama termed “excuses,” and the possibility of any real reform seems out of reach.

For me, as for thousands of other undocumented students who are looking ahead toward graduation, the future has never seemed more uncertain.

Raul Rodriguez’s commentary is distributed by New America Media.org

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January 26, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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