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Advocates on SOTU: There Are Better Ways to Improve the U.S.

Following a tumultuous 12 months as U.S. president, Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Jan. 30 and called for a united country and a “new American moment.”

President Donald Trump holds up copies of his speech on Jan. 30 before the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C. AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In his 80-minute address from Washington, D.C., the president focused on the “forgotten,” keeping cities safe, the economy, immigration, global peace and compassion.

“We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world,” Trump said, according to The Associated Press.

“But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.”  

Also in the balance in 2018: The fate of hundreds of thousands of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients.

They are known as DREAMers and are undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children. DACA expires in early March. Detention and deportation fears remain high.

For grassroots advocates working on reducing poverty, the president’s speech turned heads.

They say Trump has used divisive language, taken actions that don’t foster unity and overlooked all the residents in a changing America.

A group of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients take a selfie on Jan. 30, as they wait for the start of a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. about legislation that will protest DACA recipients. AP Photo by Susan Walsh

His speech also is raising questions for low-income families in America, as Paul Nyhan, senior writer for Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice, chronicles in this news analysis.

Here is a collection of State of the Union reactions from grassroots and national leaders:

Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO:

“We have to be steadfast on our course of resistance. Our right to vote, the quality of our children’s education, and so much more is at risk. We must stay focused….In a democracy, our vote is our currency. We must protect it with everything we have and use it at every turn.”

Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, national co-chair of Veterans for New Americans and U.S. Army Reserve veteran:

“With every day that passes, more than 120 DACA recipients lose their protection from deportation and their ability to work legally in the U.S. and contribute to our economy. Immigrants are important to the military today because of the critical skills they possess, as well as their sheer numbers as we currently face a dire recruitment challenge. The military will benefit dramatically if DREAMers are able to enlist because they are highly qualified recruits.” 

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP (second from left), gives an answer on Jan. 30 at an event called, “The Real State of Our Union.” It featured the NAACP and other civil and human rights organizations. Photo courtesy of NAACP

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund):

“Trump continued, in only slightly muted form, his verbal assault on immigrants of color in general and Latino immigrants in particular. In actual practice, this ugly pattern of scurrilous assertions continues to lead to regular deportations of peaceful immigrants unfairly labeled ‘criminal’, and his proposed immigration framework would lead to much, much more of the same.”

Petra Falcon, executive director of Phoenix-based Promise Arizona (which works with immigrants and the Latino community):

“President Trump started his second year in office just as he began his campaign, by labeling immigrants, especially Latino immigrants, as killers and rapists, all to advance his political goal of pandering to the immoral interest of his base….[The] comments by the president in his State of the Union were a shameful display of xenophobia cloaked in hollow patriotism.”

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who launched the “Moral Monday” peaceful protests in North Carolina:

“In this moment, we have got to be clear. It’s movement time.”

President Donald Trump shakes hands as he leaves after delivering his first State of the Union address on Jan. 30 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress. Pool photograph by Win McNamee via AP

Melody Klingenfuss, youth organizer with CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles) who was at the State of the Union address:

The President’s words when referring to immigrants and immigration during his address to the nation were toxic….There is a lot of work that can get done if tribal flames are not fanned….But for this to happen, we will need to keep mobilizing, organizing, getting out the vote, educating our community, and raising our voice.”  

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

“Trump may have delivered a coherent speech before a live studio audience, but the behind-the-scenes footage reveals his administration’s hostility toward civil and human rights. He touts the notion of one united American family, but his actions paint a different reality. Trump actively seeks to disadvantage, divide, and discriminate against women, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, those aspiring to join the middle class, and so many more….Our civil and human rights may be under siege, but the state of those willing to stand up and speak out remains strong.” 

Seema Agnani, executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development:

“The President’s agenda continues to disadvantage and harm communities of color, immigrants, and low-income Americans who struggle to feed their families, stay warm in the winter, and keep up with the rising costs of decent housing. We need policies that promote the quality of life for all Americans, especially those who have systematically been denied this possibility in our country.”

Roxana Norouzi, deputy director of Seattle-based OneAmerica:

“His calls to destroy family reunification, while in the same breath saying that this would ‘protect the nuclear family,’ suggest a deep disconnection with reality.”

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Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. Brad Wong is news editor for Equal Voice. This report includes information from The Associated Press. 


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