PolicyBlog/Garcia: Inauguration sets stage for immigration reform
Jan. 22, 2013
Joseph Garcia, director of Latino Public Policy Center
In his inauguration speech Monday, President Barack Obama set the stage for comprehensive immigration reform in his second term:
"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he said.
Even hardliners will have little difficulty with the second part of that declaration. The United States can always use more engineers, no matter where they were born – especially if they were educated here, allowing us to recoup our educational investment.
But what about that first part of the president's message?
Are we talking about undocumented immigrants who often work two or sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet? Are we talking dishwashers, housekeepers, landscapers, cooks and construction workers?
And are we talking about more temporary work permits to shore up an upcoming labor shortage? Or are we talking about a pathway to citizenship?
Those are two very different journeys for a nation with perhaps 12 million undocumented immigrants (most of whom simply overstayed their visa).
The answer, of course, won't come in any presidential inauguration speech. It will come through political discourse and debate by a Congress that in recent years has been anything but open to compromise on difficult issues, including comprehensive immigration reform.
But President Obama's inaugural speech set a tone for our nation, with an emphasis on "we the people" that didn't sound so much like staid words in a historical document, but rather a new emphasis on America's future relationship with its own diverse citizens – gays and lesbians, the elderly, ethnic minorities, the impoverished, the uninsured and those with preexisting health conditions, and, yes, our undocumented immigrants.