In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama indicated emphatic support for Dreamers, by asking Congress to "send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away." Although more targeted at Congress than in the past, the president's nod to our country's broken immigration system reflected similar statements in his 2010 and 2011 State of the Union remarks. In each of these speeches, he has coupled border enforcement with providing a pathway to citizenship for those who are leading productive lives in the U.S.
In 2010, the president dipped his toe in the contentious waters of the immigration reform debate, indicating that an ambiguous "we" should take on the task:
And 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.
In 2011, in recognition of the growing momentum among young people whose lives are dramatically affected by their undocumented status, who have come to be known as Dreamers, President Obama arguably clarified "we" as himself in conjunction with Congress:
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.
And this year, he shifted entirely the responsibility for immigration reform, particularly for those who came to the U.S. as children and know no other home, to Congress:
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. 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. That doesn't make sense.
I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That's why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That's why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.
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, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.
So, Mr. President, if I may summarize:
You believe strongly that we should "take on illegal immigration."
"It makes no sense" to send away young people who have been educated and trained here only so they can contribute their talent to other countries.
But, we know that actions speak louder than words. And the actions of the Obama administration convey a different message than the one his national addresses indicate. More deportations in the 2010 fiscal year than in President Bush's last year in office, for a total of 400,000. And Secretary Napolitano has been reluctant to abandon the Secure Communities program, which deputizes local law enforcement to serve as immigration agents.
Millions of young people and their families -- students, taxpayers, and engaged citizens -- are buoyed by President Obama's rhetoric, but a slightly reworded message year after year is beginning to ring hollow. Time for more action than words on immigration reform, Mr. President.