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Obama's brevity on immigration draws wide range of reactions

President Barack Obama receives a standing ovation before delivering his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama receives a standing ovation before delivering his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama may have only uttered 121 words regarding immigration in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but it's since prompted many more in reaction, and in speculation as to why.

Here's what Obama said:

Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. 

Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.  And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

Some praised Obama for what they perceived as strategic brevity, but it wasn't universal. A couple of examples of how some immigration reform backers took it: 

Truth be told, Obama's overall immigration message was more or less on par with those of recent years' State of the Union addresses, if said in fewer words.

Only this time, the speech came after a year in which a comprehensive immigration reform bill was passed in the Senate, only to stall in the House. Now, House GOP leaders are preparing to issue an immigration reform template that's expected to include a way for unauthorized immigrants to obtain legal status, but no clear path to U.S. citizenship, as the Senate plan did.

Angry reactions aside, some observers have concluded that in staying vague, Obama leaves the door open for House Republicans to take action. Here's how immigration attorney David Leopold put it in a piece for Fox News Latino:

Is it any wonder President Obama devoted only 30 seconds of his speech to immigration reform? It clearly wasn’t because an overhaul is not a priority for the President — to the contrary, immigration reform is at the top of the administration’s 2014 legislative agenda. Rather, strategy seemed to dictate that Mr. Obama soft-pedal immigration in his address, to give the House GOP one last chance to act.

Leopold went on that despite keeping it brief, Obama "put the onus squarely on the shoulders of the House GOP by reminding them that immigration is essential to economic growth and job creation—something all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, are concerned about."

Bloomberg political columnist Al Hunt offered this interpretation in a video:

"What the president did not want to do last night was somehow throw any kind of a challenge to where those House Republicans would get their back up. And he did it rather artfully."

The White House has scaled back its immigration push in light of last year's impasse, with Obama even saying he'd consider working with Republicans on a piecemeal approach as opposed to a comprehensive immigration bill.

But with no resolution yet, there has been a growing push for Obama to take executive action to stop at least some deportations. Lately it's gone beyond advocacy circles: In December, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution to push the federal government "to suspend any further deportations of unauthorized individuals with no serious criminal history." A similar measure was weighed last night by city leaders in Anaheim, who voted it down.

On Twitter, the Obama administration's record deportations were a popular topic among those who felt he didn't say enough - as was the message's familiar ring:

House Republican leaders are expected to unveil their blueprint for immigration reform this week.