McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday night delivered a State of the Union speech that was one hour and 13 minutes long, but very short on immigration and the situation on the Southwest border.
His references to immigration and the border were fleeting — less than two minutes total time.
The president urged Congress to “come together on immigration reform.”
He praised law enforcement on the border and urged lawmakers that “if you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border. And a pathway to citizenship for ‘Dreamers,’ those on temporary status, farmworkers, and essential workers.”
Biden was heckled by some in the gallery who yelled “It’s your fault” at the president when he mentioned the 70,000 Americans each year who have died from fentanyl drug overdoses.
Biden urged an increase in “drug detection machines” and inspections at border checkpoints “to stop drugs at the border.”
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who delivered the Republicans’ rebuttal, mostly listed the “border crisis” among ways in which she said Biden and the Democrats had failed the American people.
She argued that Biden inherited from the Trump administration the “most secure border in history,” and that under the Democratic leadership, “We now have the worst border crisis in American history.”
Huckabee Sanders, who was the Trump administration’s press secretary for nearly two years, also blamed the White House for the fentanyl “pouring in across our southern border,” saying that the Biden administration “refuses to secure the border.”
But most of the president’s speech centered on the nation’s economy, debt, jobs and spending — subjects that migrant advocates say could have been amplified if the president had included the role that migrants play in the nation’s economy and workforce.
“Tonight, the president missed an opportunity to address the toxic and xenophobic narratives that seek to spread hatred and lies-driven theories that have proven to harm our communities and our country as a whole,” Oscar Chacon, executive director of the nonprofit Alianza Americas said in a statement immediately following the speech.
“Migration has brought positive social, economic, and cultural benefits to our country –– a country tackling an aging population, inflation, and a massive labor shortage –– by bringing in hard-working, young immigrants, many of whom work as essential workers. Tonight, we expected a commitment from President Biden to establish and enforce laws that highly reflect the positive nature of our contributions to the country and to recognize that overcoming the struggles of our economy is directly tied to implementing humane and visionary immigration policy reforms,” Chacon said.
“Americans know the critical role immigrants play in our economy, which is why more than 70% of voters support sensible border policies coupled with broader immigration reform including a path to legalization for America’s 11 million immigrants. We give the president a grade of ‘incomplete’ on immigration reform. He hasn’t actually put together a bipartisan coalition; he did not pay attention to the border problems until it was too late; he hasn’t addressed a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers; he hasn’t addressed our farm labor shortages, and a nation that lacks the labor to feed itself is not secure,” American Business Immigration Coalition Executive Director Rebecca Shi said.
Andrew Smith, a political science lecturer at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley told Border Report afterward that he was struck by “how short the discussion of immigration was.”
“The president stuck to his lines about pathway to citizenship and increased border security — the increased stoppages of fentanyl. But there wasn’t much discussion from him about the legislation needed to pass it,” Smith said.
“The reaction from hardline Republicans chanting ‘secure the border’ suggests that no pathway to citizenship is possible with the current House,” Smith said.
“We are incredibly disappointed after hearing President Biden’s remarks on immigration. Weakening asylum protections for those needing safety in this country is NOT what he promised to the American people,” tweeted the nonprofit Young Center, which advocates for children asylum-seekers.
“President Biden turns to migration after focusing on gun violence. But the mention is cursory, and has more to do with flaunting a program that bars many Cuban, Nicaraguan & Haitians from seeking asylum and has already resulted in tragedy,” the group said in another tweet.
Jennie Murray, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, took a more measured analysis saying: “We’re encouraged that the president addressed border challenges and the need for immigration reforms. Resources for the border and solutions for Dreamers, people with Temporary Protected Status and farmworkers are priorities for the president and Congress to address this year.”
“Job growth and immigration reforms are directly related. The president and Congress should seize the opportunity to address both. More legal channels for immigrants will help counter inflation, address labor shortages and fill essential roles, from farmworkers to tech workers,” Murray said. “The question is what happens next. Congress clearly needs to act on policies that bring order and compassion to the border.”
After Biden mentioned immigration, an hour into his speech, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen, tweeted: “Hey @POTUS I have some legislation to address our southern border, it’s called “the Safe Zones Act” Let’s get it done.”
Gonzalez has proposed legislation that would allow migrants to claim U.S. asylum from their home countries, which he has told Border Report would reduce the numbers heading north to the border where they continue to feed funds into transnational criminal organizations that control border crossings from Mexico.