Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=177189
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 11:34:11 PM CST
President Obama may no longer live in Chicago, but his State of the Union speech resonated with those who represent Illinois in Congress.
Two of the president’s three main points from Tuesday’s speech — education and infrastructure — could mean greater improvements for the Prairie State.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, both said the president’s aim to keep foreign-born college students is a positive one, linking education with immigration.
According to the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, immigrants make up 13.6 percent of the state’s population. When their children are added, they make up 26 percent.
Speaking about foreign-born students who return home after receiving an American education, Durbin said, “We’ve got to find a way to give them a chance to prove themselves and let them become part of America’s future.”
“I know [Obama] sees immigration as a key building block for our economic success and an asset in our international competitiveness,” he said in a news release after the speech.
Both men voted for the passage of the DREAM Act in December. That bill would have provided a means to citizenship for children, born to illegal immigrants, who graduate from high school. It failed to pass the Senate.
“By including immigration in the speech, it makes it clear that the president knows it is not an issue that can be ignored or a problem that will resolve itself without his consistent and persistent attention,” Gutierrez said.
Durbin said he attended an Illinois Institute of Technology commencement a few years ago and noticed the number of foreign-born students crossing the stage with advanced degrees.
“[Those students] go back home and then compete with American companies,” Durbin said. “We should at least issue an invitation to them to stay and build economies and jobs. It’s talent we can use in our own country.”
The president’s mention of infrastructure also struck a chord in Illinois, where high-speed rail is just one upgrade for which the state has pushed.
“We need to invest in our infrastructure,” said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. “Not only does it protect us in terms of our roads and bridges and highways, but it also is a job-creative activity.”
Davis also said education was an important issue to him and his constituents, especially when Chicago has a nearly 50 percent high school drop-out rate.
The president has tried to remedy the situation across the country with federal Race to the Top grants allocated on a competitive basis.
“When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance,” Obama said. “But too many schools don't meet this test. That's why instead of just pouring money into a system that's not working, we launched a competition."
Illinois was a finalist but did not receive Race to the Top funds last year. If they had received the money, state officials said they would have opened more charter schools and come up with new ways to evaluate teachers.
Laurel Harbridge, a political science professor at Northwestern University, said Obama’s speech echoed state issues.
“Education reform is obviously something people in Illinois will look for,” Harbridge said.
He also said Illinois is already ahead of the curve in building high-speed rail.
In December, the Association Press reported that a portion of Amtrak’s planned high-speed link between Chicago and St. Louis would be completed this year, with the trains running by the end of 2012.
Though not a main point, Obama stressed new trade agreements with foreign countries.
“We signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States,” he said.
Earlier this month, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with both Obama and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.