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Obama's immigration reform talk: More yawns than cheers?

Last night during his State of the Union speech, President Obama spoke, as he has before, about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. He also brought up, if not by name, the Dream Act, long-proposed legislation that would grant conditional legal status to undocumented young people who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 if they attend college or join the military.

"Send me a law that gives then the chance to earn their citizenship," Obama said. "I will sign it right away." But by and large, Obama's statements regarding immigration didn't draw much excitement. Here are a few snippets of reaction from media and elsewhere.

The immigration portion of the speech was nothing we haven't heard before, wrote Elise Foley in the Huffington Post:

When President Obama's immigration policy staffers gathered to help pen the State of the Union Address passage dedicated to their issue, they didn't have much to work with. Comprehensive immigration reform never came close, and the Dream Act failed. What's a speechwriter to do?

Control-C. Control-V.

"I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration," Obama said in his Tuesday evening speech.

Indeed, he "strongly believe[d] that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration" last year, according to his State of the Union speech.

A CNN opinion piece posted shortly before the speech last night, written by Lanae Erickson of the left-leaning policy think tank Third Way, predicted what might occur when immigration came up:
Count on it. President Obama will devote three sentences to immigration reform in the State of the Union.

Two dozen lawmakers will jump to their feet and applaud. One-third of the audience will give an obligatory clap. The rest will sit silently, stifling a yawn.

Five years ago, comprehensive immigration reform legislation seemed possible and deeply bipartisan. Now it seems as unlikely and distant as President Bush's mission to Mars.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein didn't get specifically into immigration in his Wonkblog today, but had this to say:
Last night's State of the Union will not take a place alongside Barack Obama's 2008 speech on race. It won't be mentioned in the same breath as his 2004 speech in Boston. It didn't even have the intellectual scope and narrative sweep of his 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas.

Rather, it was a laundry list of policies, along the lines of the State of the Unions Bill Clinton delivered late in his presidency. Which makes perfect sense. Obama is staffed by much of the same team that wrote those State of the Unions.

And more along these lines, in different words, from Victor Landa at News Taco:
He can afford to play from his base because the opposition has left the filed open. So he reiterated many of the Democratic points and positions that he’s been hitting for three years (immigration, homeowner relief, student loans, etc…), and strike a note toward the center by saying what the American citizenry has been saying all along — Washington is broken.

How did some of those young immigrants who stand to benefit from the legislation Obama was talking about react? Not with much enthusiasm, either. Obama's track record has included record deportations and tightened interior enforcement, which among other things has eroded his Latino support as the November election gets closer. An undocumented student activist group called Dream Team Los Angeles had this line in its statement today:
The President must not blame “election year politics” for four years of inaction and political unwillingness to stand with the immigrant community that helped elect him.

Angelica Salas, director of the advocacy group Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, reacted similarly in another statement:
Although conciliatory in words, the President’s immigration policy remains at a stand-still while the massive and ever-expanding deportation machine is well oiled and humming along. The reform he promised to see through during the first year of his first term is now given short shrift as he outlines his priorities during its last.

At the same time, the president did set himself aside from his Republican competitors, whose own tone on immigration has not been winning over disenchanted Obama supporters. Candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to veto the Dream Act and most recently talked about encouraging "self-deportation," while his chief rival Newt Gingrich, initially more lenient and favoring a path to citizenship for some, has shifted positions during the campaign. Gingrich most recently said he'd favor a military version of the Dream Act, without a college component.