President Obama took a few minutes in his State of the Union address to recognize bipartisan efforts in Congress to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away,” President Obama said. “Let’s get it done.”
The President echoed sentiments he’s made in recent days that he is seeking a plan that would strengthen border security but would also establish what he called a “responsible” pathway to citizenship that would require illegal immigrants to pay taxes and penalties, learn English and head to the “back of the line” behind legal applicants.
“Real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy,” the president said.
Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition stated that she was pleased to see the President make more of a mention of immigration reform in this speech than any of his previous State of the Union addresses.
“We think reform can pass in the next few months, and we will be working with both parties toward the goal of passing practical, humane and broad immigration reform,” Millona said.
Massachusetts 1st District US Congressman Richard Neal remarked on the president’s speech and ideas for immigration as well. He noted the idea of extending the H-1B visa program to international students with an advanced degree earned in America would benefit both the Massachusetts and American economy.
“Oftentimes these young men and women are educated at first class American institutions, only to discover upon graduation that they’re sent back to the homeland,” Neal said. “So we not only have educated those individuals, then we lose the investment of the education they’ve been given.”
Neal continued, “I think that the high tech industry in particular, as they’ve pushed for the H-1B visa extension, they’ve been motivated by two things. Number one, the idea that we would hold on to these students, and number two, it would be the intellectual achievement, the scientific knowledge that they’ve garnered, that would then be reinvested into the American economy.”
Massachusetts 2nd District Congressman James McGovern also commented on the need for comprehensive immigration reform to keep more highly-trained graduates in the United States, especially in regard to industries prominent in the Bay State including high-tech manufacturing and medical research.
“We want to be the country that attracts the brain power, and the innovation, and the leading medical researchers and scientists to come here and be part of our community, to help us find breakthroughs to find cures to diseases that will not only improve the quality of life for people, but also save us a lot of money in healthcare costs,” McGovern said.
Congressman Neal also added that enhanced funding for Medical Research, while only briefly mentioned in the President’s address, drew his attention especially. He illustrated a point by citing the federal research dollars that head to Massachusetts from the National Institutes of Health.
“The NIH spends about $27 billion a year on research, and Massachusetts is about the third largest recipient of those dollars in the country,” Neal said. “And when you consider that our two rivals are New York and California, you can see that even though we are a relatively small state, we punch well above our weight, given the great institutions of medicine that we have across the country.”
Neal, a Democrat, added that he believes building a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House is possible, saying that the Republican Party has been prompted to take a “second-look” at the issue since the President’s re-election.