Timeline for Immigration Reform is in Congress' Hands

Last night, President Obama spoke for seventy minutes on the State of our Union. About two of those minutes focused on one of the greatest challenges facing it.

The President talked of health care and jobs and our economy. That was the right thing to do. But the President must acknowledge that fixing our economy, providing health care, putting people back to work and moving America forward cannot be separated from fixing our broken immigration system.

The President Said:

"And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system - to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation. "

"In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America - values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren't Republican values or Democratic values they're living by; business values or labor values. They are American values. "

The President is absolutely right. It's timely. It's necessary. And it's the right thing to do. In fact, it is the American thing to do.

But he did not go far enough for the four million American citizen children whose parents face deportation; the millions of Americans waiting to be reunited with loved ones overseas; hardworking Americans whose security is undermined in the workplace; women who are physically and sexually exploited on the floors of meatpacking plants; or the $1.5 trillion lacking from our Gross Domestic Product, all in the absence of real reform.

Though he clearly supports the notion that our laws must reflect the contributions immigrants have made to literally build this country, it is clear to me that Congress cannot wait for the President to lay out our timeline for comprehensive reform.

We've introduced a proposal in the House of Representatives with the support of 92 cosponsors. It has the strong backing of labor unions, immigration advocates and faith leaders across the country. And it's time for that powerful community to come together and demand hearings.

It's also time for the Senate to follow suit. Those four million American citizen children don't have time for political posturing. The mother torn from her infant child certainly doesn't care that we are one seat down in the Senate - that we lost a number we've never really had to begin with.

They care that we do the job we've been elected to do. But if we walk away from the tough fights --like immigration reform-- because it's hard or because it's politically risky, we're not just writing our own political eulogy; we're sentencing millions of families to a life of injustice.

Now, I know that we've been fighting so long to realize the promise of the American Dream, that it's easy to get caught up in the game of maybes: maybe it won't happen; maybe petty party politics will stand in our way; maybe we'll be one vote shy. But Ted Kennedy didn't play the maybe game. When he stood at the national convention to nominate President Obama to the white House, he said this:

"There is a new wave of change all around us, and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination - not merely victory for our Party, but renewal for our nation."

History --a renewal for our nation-- is still in the making.

Though we mourn Ted Kennedy and the leadership he brought to our nation, his dream, and the American dream lives on. Our fight lives on. We will not be deterred by maybe.

"Some in Congress want to turn America away from its true spirit. They believe immigrants are criminals. That's false. They believe any of us who help immigrants --even our priests-- are criminals, too. That's false. They say you should report to deport. I say report to become American citizens. More than four decades ago, near this place, Martin Luther King called on the nation to let freedom ring. Freedom did ring -- and freedom can ring again. It is time for Americans to lift their voices now --in pride for our immigrant past and in pride for our immigrant future."

This Congress --the House and the Senate-- has a legacy to uphold and a promise to keep to the people who elected us. The American people overwhelmingly want to see smart policy that secures our families, our borders and our economy. We know that we have the support of our President. We must now show the courage to move ahead and set a timeline for the comprehensive immigration reform Americans want and deserve.