Immigrants Deserve More from Biden

5 minute read
Oliva is a writer and immigration advocate living in Chicago. She is the author of Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith and Migration

“We are the United States of America. There is nothing we can’t do if we do it together.” With these words, President Joe Biden closed out his 2023 State of the Union Address.

Who did he mean by “we?”

He could not have meant to include in that “we” the millions of immigrants in our country, those people in our communities, working alongside us or providing the essential goods and services we rely on; those in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces and schools, in our families, and in the networks of people we care for and love; those that are a part of what makes the U.S. itself. For he only gave these millions of Americans a two-line mention, a half-hearted plea to the loudly booing Republican side of the room, as he capitulated to their desires for a more fully militarized border.

“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, farm workers, and essential workers,” the President said, over rising chants of “Secure the Border,” before quickly pivoting to another quickly-glossed but deeply-affecting topic.

It’s the nature of the State of the Union to be broad rather than deep—in his hour-and-change speech, Biden touched on airline fees and the price of insulin, on infrastructure and assault weapons, on police reform and the need to cure cancer. But for every one of the stories he shared last night, for every person whose name the President mentioned or who stood to be acknowledged by lawmakers and the TV public, there are immigrant and undocumented families (over 10 million, in fact) who share their stories.

Read More: 7 Things That Would Fix Immigration in the U.S.

To deny our country’s immigrants more than two sentences during the State of the Union is to deny the reality of their existence. It denies the benefits and richness they give to our country and the communities where they live, work, play, seek education, raise their families and help their neighbors. It denies the fact they face the same issues non-immigrant Americans face and will be equally affected by policies from Capitol Hill.

There are almost certainly immigrant workers on the dozens of infrastructure projects Biden touted as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, building bridges and improving roadways who, as sub-sub contractors, are often cut out of basic worker protections.

There are undocumented diabetic seniors, ineligible for Medicare, who must still worry about Big Pharma’s rising prices despite often paying into these systems for their entire working lives. There are undocumented parents who are also nursing children with cancer. On top of the sleepless nights and heartbreaking days involved in caring for a seriously ill child they must, again worry about how to pay for their child’s care without access to so many of the programs that put that care barely within reach of documented families.

There are undocumented students and DACA recipients who find that their immigration status puts the cost of an education in the United States beyond their reach. They constitute an entire group of students destined to be “out-educated” and “out-competed” simply because we lack the political will to give them opportunities because of where they were born.

There are undocumented parents who have lost children to police violence. Thanks to the very police impunity Biden railed against, these families are often unable to obtain visas for the victims of violent crimes who cooperate with police in prosecuting perpetrators—because the perpetrators so often go unprosecuted.

Recently a number of prominent mass shootings in the U.S. have been specifically perpetrated against immigrant communities. Seven Chinese and Mexican farm workers lost their lives in the aftermath of a workplace dispute in Half Moon Bay, California. Families in Uvalde, Texas hesitated to approach the elementary school where their children were hiding from an active shooter because of the presence of Border Patrol agents at the scene. Eight women in Atlanta lost their lives during a spree of shootings at Asian-owned spas, and instead of being able to mourn, the community had to push back against Sheriff Jay Baker for anti-Asian sentiments expressed online. After killing 23 back-to-school shoppers, including parents and children, the El Paso Walmart shooter left behind an eco-fascist manifesto, railing against immigrants that he felt were taking resources and land that rightly belonged to white people.

The struggles and triumphs of the American people that President Biden outlined in his State of the Union speech are also the struggles and triumphs of the undocumented people that live within its borders, part of the very fabric of the U.S. And if, as President Biden claimed, there is nothing we can’t do if we do it together, then finding space in our speeches, in our policies, in our political will for undocumented people ought to be a foundational part of the way forward.

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