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Obama largely avoids immigration in State of the Union

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

President Obama delivered his 6th State of the Union address in front of a new GOP dominated Congress. Here are 3 big take aways.

President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech included just a few passing references to the immigration issue, which in past years has been a top domesitc priority of his administration.

In his seventh State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama largely avoided the topic of immigration reform, a top domestic priority during his first six years in the White House.

Faced with a Congress in which Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in his presidency, Obama did not make a renewed call for what in the past he has referred to as common-sense immigration-reform legislation.

However, he did make a few references to the topic in his hour-long address, including a threat to veto any effort to defund or roll back his executive action to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Last week, the House passed a bill that would do so, but such a measure likely could not clear expected Democratic procedural opposition in the Senate.

"We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or re-fighting past battles on immigration when we've got to fix a broken system," Obama said. "And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto."

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who supports comprehensive immigration reform, told The Arizona Republic after the speech that he expected Obama to devote more of his remarks to immigration. Along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Flake was a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that collaborated on a wide-ranging reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but went nowhere in the House, which expressed a preference for a series of smaller immigration bills, although none were enacted in the previous Congress.

"He's called for comprehensive reform and then he went ahead and went piecemeal (with his executive action), so it's kind of tough for him to go back to the call," Flake said. "In one sense, it makes it harder just because he went unilateral. It's tougher to work with him. But in another sense, he's made piecemeal popular and that's what the House would have rather done all along."

The House could pass a border-security bill as early as this month, Flake said, adding that such a bill also could clear the Senate within weeks.

"In terms of responding, I've always advocated, 'Don't stick a finger in his eye, put legislation on his desk,'" Flake said. "He's going to be hard-pressed not to sign it."

In his State of the Union remarks, Obama briefly defended the need to help young immigrants known as "dreamers" and to keep immigrant families intact. Ana Zamora, a dreamer from Dallas, watched Obama's address as a guest with first lady Michelle Obama.

"Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hard-working mom is snatched from her child, and that it's possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," the president said.

The comment drew a rebuke from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose office immediately charged that his executive action was outside his authority.

"President Obama's unilateral action on immigration has no precedent, and on at least 22 occasions he himself said he did not have the power to do what he eventually did," Boehner's office said in an e-mail.

A second statement from Boehner's office charged that Obama is "not interested in securing the border or enforcing immigration law, and his unilateral action encourages more illegal immigration."

Obama later added that immigrants are part of the country's fabric of diversity.

"I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen: man and woman, young and old, Black and White, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability," he said. "Everybody matters."


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