Despite entrenched opposition in Congress to immigration reform, President Obama in the State of the Union speech asked both chambers to resurrect the Dream Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who are college students and military service members.
He also encouraged lawmakers to increase the number of visas for highly skilled immigrants, many of whom complete graduate degrees in the U.S. but are not authorized to work here. The U.S. currently awards about 140,000 highly skilled visas per year.
“If election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country,” said Obama.
Obama touted the fact that his administration has hired more Border Patrol agents and that the number of illegal crossings has declined since he took office.
“The opponents of action are out of excuses,” he said.
Obama’s remarks closely mirrored his call for immigration reform in the State of the Union speech last year. That speech came just weeks after the Dream Act had passed the Democratic-controlled House in December 2010, but failed to win enough votes in the Senate.
Over the past year, anti-immigrant fervor has hardened in the face of persistently high unemployment and unabated drug violence south of the U.S. border in Mexico.
The Dream Act would have applied to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years. After 10 years, about 1.2 million immigrants would likely take advantage of the progam, according to estimates.