This column is part of “The State of America,” an msnbc.com series leading up to President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Jan. 20. This is the state of the issues you care about, as told by organizations promoting social change and other policy experts.
Major changes are in the works for the nation as we get ready for President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, bolstering his new, bolder agenda for the nation for the rest of his term.
In the last few months, the Obama administration has initiated measures aimed at dramatically improving the lives of millions. For the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the nation’s largest immigrant-rights coalition made up of grassroots organizations in 30 states fighting for immigrant rights, the biggest victory so far is Obama’s November announcement of administrative relief for an estimated five million undocumented immigrants. What this means is that an estimated 5 million people – mostly parents of U.S. citizen children and young immigrants – will be able to work, pay taxes, and live in this country without fear of deportation.
The president’s announcement was the result of a hard-fought battle by the immigrant rights movement to fix a hopelessly broken immigration system. Reform Immigration for America (RI4A), a united national effort to build widespread support for workable, humane, comprehensive immigration reform, was part of that effort, using social media as a tool for organizing communities around the country to come together at rallies, vigils, community town halls, and more.
Through these actions, our movement highlighted how an immigration system that fails to follow our nation’s values and belief in justice is not just a political problem, but a moral crisis. For the first time, many Americans were confronted with the horror of a system that systematically breaks apart hard-working, law-abiding families through the deportation machinery, leaving in its wake anguish and despair. It is this tireless activism of millions of people around the country that pushed Obama to take executive action for immigrant families.
Administrative relief is a great victory for our movement, but we know we have more battles ahead of us. In the short term, we will need to fiercely fight back against efforts already underway by Republicans in Congress to derail administrative relief so that it never gets off the ground. In the long term, we will need to continue to advocate for immigration reform legislation, which is the only way we will secure a permanent solution to the immigration crisis.
Even though Republicans only just started their new reign in Congress, they are on a rampage and have already launched a series of attacks on immigrants in just the first few weeks. Their top priority has been to push for legislation that would maximize deportations of immigrants and remove protections from long-settled immigrants with American children. They have also introduced multiple bills that would defund the president’s executive action, while making young immigrants subject to deportation though the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a measure that was put in place several years ago to protect young immigrants.
Make no mistake: Our movement is poised to fight to protect our rights. Now more than ever we are determined to stand up for our families while supporting the president’s actions.
For this reason, RI4A and FIRM are ramping up our campaigns to fight for families and stop Republican attacks to derail Obama’s executive actions on immigration. We plan to educate our community and provide more opportunities for our members to get real answers from leaders in the immigrant rights movement. FIRM is also organizing actions in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country to put pressure on our elected officials to act to support our families by fighting back against anti-immigrant legislation and supporting Obama’s executive action. Finally, we will continue to register people to vote so that we can use our voice at the ballot box to defend the rights of immigrants. It’s time that our elected officials join us on the frontlines defending these actions against Republican attacks.
At this year’s State of the Union, we expect that the president will issue a call to support his efforts to advance immigration reform and join the growing movement of Americans who are advocating for change. When Obama speaks to the nation he must demonstrate to us that immigrant families are still a top priority.
Kica Matos is the Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change, and a spokesperson for FIRM. Emilia Gutierrez is the Director of RI4A, a united national effort that brings together individuals and grassroots organizations with the mission of building widespread support for workable, humane, comprehensive immigration reform. For more information on how to join the movement, text JUSTICE or JUSTICIA to 69866.