Academic journal article The Journal of Race & Policy

'My Fellow Citizens: Barack Obama and Immigration Policy

Academic journal article The Journal of Race & Policy

'My Fellow Citizens: Barack Obama and Immigration Policy

Article excerpt

I. HISTORIC ELECTION

Barack Obama's election to the presidency of the United States has been hailed as his1 1 and rightfully so. He is the first African American to hold the executive office in a nation with a painful racist history of black subjugation. He is of mixed racial background, his white mother hailing from the country's heartland of Kansas and black father from far away Kenya. Obama is only the seventh president who is the child of at least one immigrant and the first since Herbert Hoover. In his first year in office President Obama received both historic praise - the Nobel Peace Prize, and historic condemnation - Congressman Joseph Wilson's shout of "You lie!" during Obama's nationally broadcast healthcare speech to Congress in 2009. The list of historic factoids and more seismic cultural shifts of the Obama presidency goes on and on. Congressman Wilson's uncouth public outburst, in particular, is critical, but not solely because it led to a congressional reprimand of Wilson and a nationwide debate over the racial motivations behind Republican lawmakers' derision and other bizarre popular criticisms of President Obama. To be sure, the discussions about racism and the nation's first black presidency should continue2, but so should serious consideration of the issue-within-the-issue that prompted Wilson's shriek: immigration policy, even though as a topic it was broached merely in passing, snugly fit between Obama's momentary remarks on euthanasia and abortion. But Wilson's outburst reflected the fact that immigration is a vexing national question that has polarized voters since the 1970s.

The Wilson debacle, which quickly entered the news cycle, muted the larger issue of undocumented immigrants' access to healthcare and also reflects the ubiquitous nature of immigration and immigrants in the economic, social, and political fabric of the country. Immigrants come to the U.S. from all over the world and reflect a complex combination of national origin, race, political ideologies, and human capital. Despite this complexity, large scale contemporary immigration also includes a preponderance of authorized and unauthorized Latin American immigrants, especially from neighboring Mexico. Popular understanding of immigration and immigrants is usually focused on this latter trend rather than the overall heterogeneity of immigrants in the United States. As for the issues, whether it's healthcare reform, the economic stimulus package, or even "Cash for Clunkers," the question of how immigrants fit into these federal programs is imperative. According to Jennifer Ng'andu of the National Council of La Raza, "In every policy debate, as long as immigration remains unresolved, there is going to be a question of what happens to immigrants in this country" (Thompson, 2009). Healthcare access too, for example, extends beyond undocumented immigrants receiving services, and should include how to verify those that are eligible. It includes the issues of immigrants receiving employer-based care, or mixed status families made up of immigrants and natural-born or naturalized members and their eligibility and privacy, as well as continued emergency room use for all persons.

President Obama mentioned only one facet of immigration in his healthcare speech, and fleetingly. One year later, in his first State of the Union address, President Obama similarly devoted only three lines to immigration.3 In response, Kevin Johnson, Dean of the Law School at the University of California, Davis and immigration scholar, suggested that the brief comment on immigration "did little to make it seem like a priority of the administration" (Johnson, 2010). Editor Sandip Roy of New American Media went further in his Hufßngton Post article, "Did Obama Kill Immigration Reform in the State of the Union?" Referring to the president's three line "casual platitude," Roy suggested that "If he did, he killed it gently, with a pat on the head. ... 12 million undocumented immigrants deserved more than those 38 words" (Roy, 2010). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.