On a night where President Barack Obama addressed government investments, gun control and a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the need to overhaul the U.S. immigration system commanded five paragraphs in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The President said it is his responsibility to work toward a government that “encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”
The President seized on his first State of the Union since winning reelection to reiterate the details of his immigration reform plan, following broader remarks given two weeks ago in Las Vegas. While he focused on creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S., the President also conceded that increased enforcement must be part of the compromise to get legislation through congress. “Real reform,” the President stated, “means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration’s already made, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years. “
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was a last-minute addition to the bipartisan Gang of Eight, also addressed immigration—in English and Spanish—in his Republican rebuttal immediately following the president’s speech. “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.”
While Senator Rubio has pledged his support for immigration reform, including a pathway citizenship, some of his key Republican colleagues have voiced strong opposition against any kind of reform. Still, the majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented according to a Quinnipiac University survey, giving President Obama critical momentum heading into his second term.