Biden Pushes for Immigration Reform in State of the Union Address

Biden Pushes for Immigration Reform in  State of the Union Address
The United States Capitol in Washingon D.C. onPhoto by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

President Joe Biden in his first State of the Union address on Mar. 1 urged Congress to provide pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farmworkers, and essential workers.

Biden emphasized the need to secure the borders and fix the broken immigration system in order to fill the current labor shortages.

"Revise our laws so businesses have the workers they need and families don't wait decades to reunite," Biden said. "It's not only the right thing to do — it's the economically smart thing to do."

He highlighted changes in securing the border to reduce smuggling and human trafficking, including new technology to detect smuggling, creating joint patrols with Mexico and Guatemala, and putting dedicated immigration judges to speed up case hearings.

Biden's first year in office saw more than 2 million unauthorized border crossing attempts. In July of last year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection witnessed the highest number of monthly migrant crossings not seen since 2000.

However, Biden focused a majority of his 62-minute-long speech on other policy issues like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure bill, and inflation briefly touching upon border and immigration issues for only a couple minutes in the latter half of his address.

Speaking to MSNBC after Biden's address, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY expressed her dissatisfaction with how little prominence Biden gave to immigration, "The piece on immigration was really just glossed over and we have over 10 — you know, anywhere between 10 to 13 million immigrants in this country that feel desperate for a path to citizenship," she said.

On immigration, Congress appeared to be united as Biden received rounds of standing ovations. But Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., were heard chanting "build the wall" — referring to former President Donald Trump's promise to construct a wall across the U.S. southern border.

Since taking office last year, Biden ended the construction of the border wall and signed three executive orders to reverse Trump's immigration policies.

He also started the Family Reunification Task Force to reunite families separated at the border and lifted a travel ban on majority Muslim countries.

But voters are unhappy with Biden's progress on immigration reforms so far.

The Biden administration has particularly received flak for continuing Title 42 — a Trump-era policy that expels migrants due to COVID-19 concerns — which resulted in the expulsion of 1.16 million migrants since Biden took office last year.

In the run-up to the State of the Union, 66 percent of likely midterm voters disapprove of Biden's handling of immigration issues, according to a survey commissioned by NILC Immigrant Justice Fund, an immigration advocacy group that was Biden's chief political pollster.

American voters appear to support immigration reforms across party lines. According to a poll from the National Immigration Forum published last month, 79% of registered voters supported creating a pathway for citizenship, including 76% of Republicans polled.

However, Congress and courts have stymied Biden’s attempts at broader immigration changes.