Obama makes entrepreneur Geetha Vallabhaneni the emblem of immigration reform

President highlights her struggle for Green Card, to start a business.

By Deepak Chitnis

Geetha Vallabhaneni (Photo courtesy of Luminix, Inc.)

WASHINGTON, DC: As part of a revitalized effort to push comprehensive immigration reform through Congress as soon as possible, President Barack Obama gave a rousing speech in San Francisco on Monday, during which he singled out Indian American business owner Geetha Vallabhaneni for her resolve in her 12 year odyssey to obtain a green card.

Vallabhaneni, who introduced Obama at the event, is the founder and CEO of Luminix, a small Silicon Valley IT firm. She came to the US 15 years ago, and it took her the better part of a dozen years to finally obtain a green card so that she could start her own business, which she finally did within a mere ten months of getting her green card.

In her remarks, Vallabhaneni spoke about how she didn’t even fly back to India to visit her dying grandfather, because she feared that leaving the country for even a brief amount of time would permanently jeopardize her dream of becoming a US citizen.

“We know the system is broken and it needs to be fixed,” said Vallabhaneni. “Let us welcome and empower smart, ambitious people who fuel our innovation economy and help us stay ahead.”

Obama essentially said that Vallabhaneni was the embodiment of the American dream, a foreigner who comes to this land because they seek opportunities they cannot get elsewhere. He urged Congress to pass immigration reform so that the US can continue to be the number-one destination for highly skilled workers from all over the world.

“We’re training our own competition, rather than invite those incredibly talented young people, like Geetha, to stay here and start businesses and create jobs here,” said President Obama. “We end up sending them home to create new jobs and start new businesses someplace else.”

President Obama also implored lawmakers to find a way to alleviate green card backlogs, saying that he has heard countless testimonials from immigrants who are separated from their families back home. He said that by pushing more green cards through, more families can come to America, and that this would require modernizing the currently antiquated immigration system.

The President gave hope that comprehensive immigration reform could finally see some movement after stalling for months, saying that concessions are being made on both sides of the aisle. On the Republicans’ side, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is apparently open to implementing some measure of reform, while the Democrats are now opening up to the idea of passing several separate immigration reform laws rather than one large comprehensive bill, an option they were initially dead set against.

Not all have taken kindly to President Obama’s speech; a group of hecklers barraged the President with chants urging him to stop deportations and find a pathway to citizenship for the several millions of immigrants already here in the country. The Obama Administration is responsible for the highest number of deportations in US history – roughly 400,000 per year – leading to criticism from many that he supports immigration reform while also sending illegal immigrants back where they came from.

Saying that he “respect[s] the passion of these young people” – he even prevented the Secret Service from removing the hecklers – President Obama pointed out the naiveté of those who think “the easy way out is to yell and pretend I can [instantly] do something,” saying that if it was possible to stop deportations without having to deal with Congressional red tape, he would do so.

Republicans are still generally opposed to providing citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented workers already in the US, saying that they take away jobs from Americans and that by giving them what they want, America is essentially condoning the fact that they broke laws to come here. The Senate-approved version of comprehensive immigration reform, which was passed this past summer, allowed for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but during yesterday’s speech, President Obama indicated that he would want for them to attain citizenship by “getting in line behind everyone trying to come here the right way.”

President Obama is in California as part of a three-day stretch across the state to win back support he’s lost after the Obamacare launch debacle. With his poll numbers dropping and the entire country up in arms about the implementation of his signature Affordable Care Act, Obama is looking to turn the tide for himself and Democrats at large by shifting the focus to immigration reform.

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