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American Magazine

Government & Politics

Obama Frames Immigration Debate at SIS

By Mike Unger

Photo: President Obama spoke at SIS on July 1.

President Obama spoke at SIS on July 1. (Photo: Hilary Schwab)

What a way to break in the building.

As sunlight streamed through the walls of windows in the gleaming new School of International Service building on July 1, President Barack Obama delivered a major address calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

Fifty-three years after President Dwight Eisenhower broke ground for the original SIS, Obama became the latest in a long line of presidents to choose AU as a venue for an important policy speech.

“Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth,” Obama told the crowd of 250 in the SIS atrium. “It’s a matter of faith, of shared fidelity to the ideas and values that we hold so dear. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes us strong. Anybody can help us write the next great chapter in our history.”

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and activist Al Sharpton were among the politicians, government officials, and AU administrators, professors, staff, and students who witnessed the speech in person. Just across the quad in the Ward building, hundreds more from the AU community gathered, joining millions across the world who watched on TV.

AU president Neil Kerwin called Obama’s latest visit “historic” for the university and “timely” for the nation.

“Immigration is a matter of profound significance for our country, given our history as a nation of immigrants, our values, and our current challenges. It has great implications for our future,” Kerwin said. “He delivered his remarks in the new home of the School of International Service, thereby giving our university an unforgettable inaugural event for this remarkable facility. It is a day that we will memorialize in a variety of ways.”