WASHINGTON — A Syrian refugee and an Army veteran born in Mexico were guests of first lady Michelle Obama at her husband’s last State of the Union address Tuesday, but President Barack Obama’s failure to mention Syrian refugees and scant mention of a”broken” immigration system left advocates for those groups wanting more.
Obama outlined the U.S. approach to the Syrian conflict, saying the nation is partnering with “local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.” But he offered no specific solution to the refugee crisis.
Daryl Grisgraber, senior Middle East advocate for Refugees International’s senior Middle East advocate, said inviting Refaai Hamo, one of the 4.6 million Syrian refugees worldwide registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the first lady’s guest box was a nice gesture, but had expected Obama to mention the plight of the displaced Syrians.
The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration also had hoped for more from the speech.
While acknowledging that Obama has increased the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the U.S. by 10,000 slots , the organization asked the administration to “go a step further to fulfill the wise objectives set out by the resident in 2011,” as Neil Grungras, executive director of the group, said in a statement.
“Help save LGBT refugees clinging on to hope in the most hopeless of conditions. Their lives and our collective morality implore us to act now,” he said.
During the address, Obama mentioned the importance of immigrants in America.
“We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world,” he said.
The first lady invited Mexican-born DREAMer Oscar Vazquez, who came to the United States as a 12-year-old and served two tours in Afghanistan, to the State of the Union even as her husband’s administration has been criticized for raids against Central American undocumented immigrants — among them children and their mothers.
Vazquez, who in 2009 graduated with a STEM degree from Arizona State University and now works as an engineer in Montana, embodies Obama’s vision of those Americans who “don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing.”
And though Obama emphasized in his speech that it doesn’t matter if someone is an “immigrant or American born” to be a voice that inspires America to move forward, he did not outline any specific immigration reform proposals as he has in previous years, only saying “fixing a broken immigration system” is one of the nation’s priorities.
America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry said that any hope the immigrant community had a year ago has been replaced by fear.
“Between Obama’s home raids stoking fear and Republicans’ rhetoric stoking hate, immigrant communities are wondering what’s next,” he wrote. “Has America turned on them, or are politicians making short-term calculations that will backfire in a changing America?”