By Elaine Mendus
This year’s Presidential State of the Union was a far cry from what it has been in the past. While many critics noticed the lack of talk about the economy being in bad straits as an indicator that things are getting better, for some, other issues were at focus. Depending on how much, or how little the president spoke about an issue, some conclusions can be drawn, and concerns can rise. For undocumented Asian and Latinos, the State of the Union didn’t offer much comfort, especially from a deportation-happy president. It seems that the only real opportunity for reform will come if the house flips Democratic, or through executive orders.
Immigration reform has been the big topic for years, arguably our key issue depending on who you ask. Deportations still worry many. That strange, unique fear that ICE officers will at any time smash down the front door, round you and your family up, and send them back to the place you escaped. It isn’t a fear that many can identify with. But for those who live with it every day? The boogeyman could be around the corner at any point.
The State of the Union address was 20 pages long, drawn out, and a repetition of many of the previous promises of the Obama administration. Back in 2008, then president-elect Barack Obama touted that one of this first tasks would be to close Guantanamo Bay and begin trials for the people detained there – something that he reminded us of again last week. Guantanamo Bay is to (eventually) be closed down during his term.
The State of the Union felt like some uncomfortable flashback. The urgency of dealing with the economic crisis was gone, and the charm of a younger, new Obama had disappeared. The president before us last week has aged considerably, not unlike Bush when he stepped out of office in 2008. The only new thing was John Boehner’s bizarre skin color, and the gif of Biden grinning at somebody in the audience.
There were also the strange bits of dialogue, where the president cited moments when the Democratic and Republican parties have come together and cooperated. He even made jokes about how he “did not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law” regarding federal health care, and made light of the fact that congress finally produced a budget in December, while not making much of a mention of the fighting that went into getting said budget. If viewed out of the context of the December news stories, or the brief government shutdown, it seems as though things have been pretty decent in Washington. But they haven’t, and it is far from the truth to act that way.
The Obama administration’s meager overview of the problems in Washington, combined with the weak support for immigration reform, as indicated by the State of the Union are concerning at best. And the Republican Party is, as usual, digging it’s heels into the dirt.
Immigration reform is, yet again, on ice. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), a moderate and part of the coalition that drafted and help pass a bill last year in the Senate is among those threatening that reform could die if deportations cease – a sticking issue with populations which are facing deportation constantly.
The White House is, obviously in a poor spot. It seems it is damned either way. However, if anybody else is, it is those populations who face deportations. Asian populations of undocumented citizens are often left out of the immigration narrative, and the Republican party is downright toxic toward Latinos. These populations have no other alternative when voting for elections.
Third parties are consistently ineffective, and voting for the Republican Party is not something likely with the rhetoric coming out of their aisle. They are essentially trapped. Democrats have no real reason to push as hard as they could for reform when these demographics aren’t going to be turning away anytime soon.
2014, however, could make a difference. This is midterm season, after all. Flipping the House of Representatives to the blue could prevent the worst case, a lame duck Obama. Should that fail, or the Senate go over to the Republican party, then any chance at meaningful reform is likely dead until the next election.
That said, the president could also follow in the footsteps of another Democrat and utilize the executive order. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued 3,522 executive orders over the course of of his presidency. Of course, there are differences. Roosevelt had four terms, a depression, and the worst war in human history to deal with. When broken down, Roosevelt’s issue per term comes out to about 880 orders per term. Barack Obama has only issued a mere 168 executive orders under both terms.
And why can’t the president use the power of the executive office? There is going to be no winning over that party no matter what he does. An opinion piece by Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the Wall Street Journal slammed the president as acting as an “imperial president”. Others have said far worse, as well. While an executive order might not solve everything, and certainly isn’t the answer when it comes to things like domestic spying, it is time for the president to invoke the power of the office of the Chief Executive and bring about the “Hope and Change” that he touted. It’s not like he is going to be making many friends in Washington with whatever he does. It is time to act for us, The People.