President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night barely touched on immigration, but some on the right are nevertheless criticizing his recent actions on the issue, potentially setting the stage for a tough battleground through the end of his presidency. The official Republican Party and Tea Party responses alternatively ignored and attacked the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US and focused on the president’s latest move in the absence of Congressional action.
“Passions still fly on immigration,” Obama said. “But surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken 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.”
If last week’s anti-immigrant votes in the House are any indication of that “passion,” it’s likely that the Tea Party could shift the debate on immigration reform. During the official Tea Party Express State of the Union response, Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) blamed undocumented immigrants for the plight of 10 million unemployed Americans and emphasized legal immigration.
“Success for our nation also means embracing diversity – including legal immigrants – and the millions waiting in line legally to begin their own American Dream,” Clawson said.
Transitioning to Spanish, he said, “Todos creemos en Dios, la familia, el trabajo, y la libertad. Hay que respetar la ley. Pero, ustedes son bienvenidos con nosotros. Todos somos iguales. Por supuesto. Nuestra casa es su casa,” which means, “We all believe in God, the family, hard work, and liberty. The law must be followed. You are all welcome with us. We are all equal. Of course. Our house is your house.”
“As we respect our immigration laws – we’ve also got to be fair to the more than 10 million Americans currently struggling to find good jobs!” Clawson added. “To do this, we need to secure our borders first. This is important for fairness –- and security -– for all Americans.”
Since taking office in a special election to replace Trey Radel, Clawson has raised eyebrows. During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last year, the Florida congressman made the assumption that Obama administration officials were officials from India, telling them, “I’m familiar with your country; I love your country.” As MSNBC pointed out, Clawson also voted for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to be House Speaker, even though “the Kentucky senator is not a member of the House.”
For years, the Republican response has been delivered by members in both English and Spanish, and the versions are usually near identical translations rather than unique speeches to different audiences. This year, tension arose when the Republican Party tapped Joni Ernst (R-IA) — who opposes providing voting materials in other languages and denounced the Senate immigration bill as “amnesty” — to give the English address. Freshman lawmaker Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) — who supports comprehensive immigration reform — was tapped to deliver the message in Spanish. Consequently, Ernst’s speech offered nothing at all on immigration, while Curbelo included only a single sentence with vague calls for “securing the border and modernizing our legal immigration system.”
For many Spanish-language journalists and advocates, this glaring omission was unacceptable.
Univision analyst Phillip Arroyo said just minutes after Curbelo’s speech that it was difficult for him not to laugh at the first-term congressman, and criticized him for identifying as a child of immigrants and repeatedly using his parents’ migration story while at the same time failing to “confront his own party” on immigration reform.
Jorge Ramos, arguably the most prominent Latino journalist in the US, slammed Republicans in an essay for their silence and lack of concrete solutions on immigration.
“Republicans seem not to have learned anything from their electoral defeat in 2012,” said Ramos. “Their own post-election analysis stated that, “If Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.” That’s absolutely right. They are now setting themselves up to lose the 2016 presidential election – it’s not possible to win the White House without the Latino vote.”
Referencing House Republicans’ recent vote to repeal the President’s executive actions that protect young immigrants and their parents, Ramos noted: “They don’t seem to realize what a terrible message they are sending to Latinos: We are against you.”
With the GOP lacking a clear path forward on immigration — besides the stepped up deportations that their latest vote would trigger — they’re falling further out of step with the vast majority of Latino voters, 87 percent of whom support the president’s use of executive authority to provide relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants who have U.S. born children. A poll by Latino Decisions late last year found that 40 percent of Latino voters agreed with the statement: “The Republican party has now become so anti-immigrant and anti-Latino that it would be hard for me to consider supporting them.” That could spell trouble for 2016.