President Obama’s State of the Union address drew a mixed review, even from his supporters.
In particular, many Latino groups and advocates for more lenient immigration policies expressed bewilderment over Obama’s fleeting mention of the need to reform the system to both tighten border security and provide a path to legal status for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
And again, many vented their frustration over his record rate of deportations – more than any other U.S. president.
"The President spent barely 30 seconds talking about immigration reform, the issue that affects 11 million lives and that matters the most to 53 million Latinos," said Jonathan Fried, executive director of the Florida-based WeCount, a group that favors more flexible immigration laws. “Once again, President Obama mentioned he supports immigration reform, but talking won't keep our families together when they are being separated every day.”
Fried continued: “The President can prove that he truly cares about our families by stopping the deportation of our family members now and easing our communities' suffering. Otherwise he will still be known in our communities as the deporter-in-chief.”
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, lauded Obama’s call for helping more Americans improve their financial health.
“Following the Great Recession, the Latino community has found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet--experiencing higher rates of unemployment, foreclosure, and loss of household wealth,” according to a NALEO statement. “ By implementing policies that grow the economy, spur job creation and make college more accessible for all Americans, more Latinos will be able to pursue their piece of the American Dream, resulting in a more skilled work force and an expanded middle class."
The organization appealed for the kind of bipartisan spirit in Washington D.C. that has been in tatters in the last several years.
“We urge Congress and the President to work together on bipartisan measures,” the statement said, “such as early learning and college readiness programs that will foster educational and economic opportunity for this increasingly significant sector of the population and all Americans in the coming year.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, echoed many of his fellow GOP lawmakers when he took aim at the president’s determination to act unilaterally on certain issues – by using executive orders -- if Congress does not work with him.
"While the President discussed some areas of common interest, the heart of his 2014 agenda is clearly more about working alone than with the American people's representatives on the major reforms we need,” Rubio said.
Rubio characterized some of the programs that Obama pushed as a big-government approach that undermines the upward mobility the president said he was interested in expanding for more Americans.
"President Obama missed an opportunity on several fronts, especially by insisting that Washington keep spending more money than it takes in,” Rubio said, “keep dictating to entrepreneurs how to run their businesses, and failing to level with the American people about how we can save our retirement programs. We need a real opportunity agenda that helps people seize the enormous potential that the coming years hold."
Groups that back stricter immigration policies said that Obama’s support for reform measures that would expand foreign worker visa programs and allow millions of undocumented immigrants to legalize their status is at cross purposes with the concept of helping more Americans improve their economic situation and job opportunities.
"These two policy goals are mutually incompatible," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, the nation's largest anti-illegal-immigration lobby group. "With 92 million working age Americans either unemployed, under-employed, or not participating in the labor market, the president's immigration agenda would only further depress the wages of most American workers.”
Income disparity goes hand in hand with reducing illegal immigration, Stein noted.
“No amount of government regulation, or mandated increases in the minimum wage, will narrow the income gap so long as the supply of labor dramatically exceeds the demand for workers."