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The State of Immigration Reform: A shift away from empty promises?

Created: 15 February, 2013
Updated: 26 July, 2022
3 min read

By Nancy Landa

President Obama is right about one thing. As he said in his State of the Union address, “…the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” A sense of urgency was palpable in his request to Congress to send him an immigration bill in the next coming months as he committed to sign it into law immediately.

Without fail, border security was at the forefront; not only did President Obama embraced it as continued immigration policy, but also referenced it as a success of his administration with illegal crossings reaching their lowest levels in 40 years. It was probably safer for him to focus on such statistic rather than the other historic record he has set and for which he has received criticism by immigration advocates: the number of deportations under his first term, currently at 1.4 million.

It is promising to hear President Obama continues to stand firm on keeping a pathway to citizenship as part of the comprehensive immigration reform package. We are yet to see if Democrats will effectively persuade Republicans to warm-up to the idea of including a pathway to citizenship in an immigration plan, a potential contention point in upcoming rounds of negotiations. On the other hand, President Obama repeated much of the Republican rhetoric when he discussed the laundry list of requirements to “earn” this proposed pathway to citizenship: Get background checks, pay taxes and a significant penalty, as well as learn English.

As a former undocumented immigrant that faced the legal technicalities which prevented me to adjust my legal status in 20 years, I realized how complex and broken the immigration system really is. Often times I wonder if President Obama and the so-called bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ understand such complexity and if their proposals will actually reform a bureaucracy that is flawed in many ways. From visa processing wait times to detention and removal proceedings, the immigration system shows to lack the flexibility, humanity, and pragmatism that add to its dysfunction.

A two minute speech did not give enough room for elaboration aside from what we have already heard from President Obama on what he envisions in an immigration plan. The same can be said for the much anticipated official Republican response from Senator Marco Rubio. Although there are doubts if enough Republican support will be gathered to reach a deal on comprehensive immigration reform, there is no question they have been forced to be more receptive to work with Democrats toward a solution.

The devil is in the details, and particularly true as reform plans go through the deliberation process in both houses, which will give us a better indication if it will actually be “comprehensive”. But in contrast to four years ago, the immigrant community might actually see real change rather than empty promises. In the words of President Obama, “Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.”

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook, Twitter or her blog at

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