BROWNSVILLE, January 29 - President Obama addressed the nation yesterday on the State of the Union. The President spoke in the presence of a Congress that up until now has failed to entertain a single vote on laws that would have extraordinary impact on colonia communities across the Rio Grande Valley.
The members of this do-nothing Congress have placed their political futures ahead of the legitimate needs of their nation.
The president, on the other hand, addressed the nation as the man who has deported nearly two million people. The vast majority of those separated from their families and removed from their communities were guilty of no crime. They were simply forced by the circumstances to immigrate during a time of a dysfunctional immigration law.
For Valley families and immigrants everywhere, the present state of the leadership of our union would have to be judged as disappointing.
The state of our union—that reality in which we here in the Rio Grande Valley live and work and hope and dream-we would judge as expectant.
We know that a huge demographic shift is now in fact upon us. The Latino community is in ascendency. That both Democrats and Republicans dare to address the question of immigration is proof that this new moment is now a political fact of life. This community now no longer must beg to have its rights respected but rather is making that respect a legitimate and powerful demand of our nation.
So, we do in fact expect to see a reformed immigration law as a part of our nation’s reality, and sooner rather than later. Our hopes, though, are muted by the fact that both political parties tie border security to immigration reform. We in the Valley do not want nor do we need to live in an armed camp. We expect to fight that pressure every step of the way.
The Equal Voice Network is painfully aware of the damage that sequestration, that the government shutdown and, most recently, the federal budget fights, has done to our families. Cuts in education, cuts in housing, and cuts in all manner of social welfare only create more misery for those whose life’s burdens are heavy enough. We expect that our nation’s wealth be more responsibly shared—and take some bit of hope that the end of the war in Afghanistan will lead to shift in funding priorities.
The working families of the Rio Grande Valley remain disappointed by the failure of the Affordable Care Act to offer single-payer health care to every man, woman and child in our community. We know that the only truly healthy community is one in which all have a medical home. We expect to engage in the fight to expand Medicaid coverage in the state of Texas. We believe that that fight is only the first of many in the effort to guarantee the basic human right of health care to all people.
We salute the president’s announcement to raise the minimum wage for new federal workers, but we expect to see the day in which all of America’s workers will know that the minimum wage that they will be paid is $15.00 an hour. Working families deserve a dignified wage that will keep a family of four above the federal poverty line—without both mom and dad having to work. Many business leader oppose that initiative, but our families are weary of watching the super-wealthy grow their income with faint assurances that they are “creating more jobs.” We expect that when that argument is dismissed, our region will experience unprecedented prosperity.
The members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice community may be disappointed in the performance of our elected officials, but we expect great things from our own leadership. We continue to work daily, week in and week out, to increase the number of civically engaged citizens in the region.
These are people who carry hopes and expectations of our families in their hearts. These folks vote. And they are busily working to get others to join in that effort. We know that the vote is the best way for us to make our own statement about the State of our union.
Michael Seifert is network weaver for the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network. Among the organizations in the Network are: La Unión del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Azteca, Proyecto Juan Diego, South Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Organizing Project, ACLU, ARISE, Brownsville Community Health Clinic, and South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center.