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Immigration Reform A Small Part Of President's Address, Divided Reaction

The White House

While President Barack Obama covered a lot of territory in last night’s State-of-the-Union, one topic that’s being scrutinized is immigration reform. 

It took President Obama almost exactly an hour to deliver the annual address and 2 minutes and 18 seconds of it was dedicated to immigration reform.

“And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.  

A round of applause

It was one of the major applause lines of the night, and earned a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle. Yet some Republican lawmakers, like Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, still held their enthusiasm in check.

"I was not surprised by what the President said about amnesty and granting citizenship to over 10 million people in the country illegally," Smith said.

The congressman also said that President Obama’s plan for a pathway to citizenship runs afoul of the president’s own plan to beat down the nation’s unemployment.

“Because when you legalize over 10 million people they become eligible to work in the United States and they’re competing with unemployed Americans and unemployed legal immigrants,” reasoned Smith. 

Democrat Congressman Joaquín Castro, also of Texas, said the inclusion of immigration reform in the State of the Union is a victory for the Hispanic voters who turned out in mass the last election. But he said it still going to be a challenge pass the bill in the GOP controlled House.

“The fact is there is going to be a significant chunk of Republicans who will not move off a hard-line stance," said Castro. "But I do think that there’s a bi-partisan coalition who do support comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship and I think that by the end of the year those minds will prevail in Congress.”

The other side of the aisle:

In delivering the Republican response, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also touched on immigration reform, but avoided mentioning a pathway to citizenship.

“We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws,” said Rubio. 

President Obama did lay down that real reform would require a“responsible pathway to earned citizenship.”

“A path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally," Obama said.

Bipartisan groups in both chambers are working on an immigration bill that he expects to sign into law in the next few months.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi