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A look at the SPLC’s priorities and the president’s State of the Union address

President Biden delivered a wide-ranging State of the Union address last week. Here’s the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2024 federal policy stance on his proposals:


President Biden unfortunately endorsed the anti-asylum Senate border bill. This bill does not include legal protections for Dreamers or any new pathway to U.S. citizenship. Instead, the bill allows him and future presidents authority to shut down the asylum system. The SPLC also condemns the president’s dehumanizing use of the word “illegal” to refer to people during the address. (Despite Biden later expressing regret for using the term, the White House has clarified that it was not an apology.) Biden’s immigration policies should reflect his statement that the U.S. is “home to people from every place on earth.”

Economic justice and eradicating poverty

The president recognized the economic difficulties facing low- and middle-income families and listed several programs that benefit families. The SPLC supports the president’s plans to establish or expand Affordable Care Act coverage, the child tax credit – which prior data shows cut child poverty in half – and a number of housing initiatives, which would make buying or renting a home more affordable.

Voting rights

Biden’s annual address marked the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when state troopers in Alabama brutally attacked civil rights activists marching for voting rights. Their activism led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective civil rights laws in history – a law the SPLC is working to restore in the wake of a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gutted a key provision. Biden condemned the voter suppression that has ensued, election subversion and “extreme gerrymandering,” all of which the SPLC fights through litigation, policy advocacy and alliances with community-based, voting rights organizations.

Hate and extremism

The president was right to offer a full-throated defense of freedom and democracy and to bluntly warn that Americans “face an unprecedented moment in the history of the Union.” We agree that the nation is at an inflection point. Hate and extremism have become mainstream. They infect our political system through right-wing commentators and elected officials who repeat extremist tropes and ideologies and stir violent acts and rhetoric. The SPLC agrees with the president that “political violence has absolutely no place in America.” We support accountability for the planners and perpetrators of the deadly insurrection attempt of Jan. 6. We also support efforts to expand prevention initiatives, including democracy-building programs like civics education and digital and media literacy.

The criminal legal system

The president called on Congress to “give communities the tools to crack down on gun crime, retail crime and carjacking.” We agree that Congress must take long-overdue steps to give communities the tools and resources they need to enhance public safety. However, measures that would increase criminalization and incarceration continue to be pushed. Studies show that more incarceration does not deter crime. It actually risks increasing crime. Incarcerating youth substantially increases their risk of being incarcerated as adults. While carjacking in some cities is an important issue, we should not nationalize a very local problem. And the hysteria over retail theft is based on exaggerated data and misleading narratives. Congress must ensure that reform offers programs that strengthen communities through violence prevention rather than increased criminalization and incarceration.

Challenges ahead

While it is encouraging to see many of the issues highlighted by the president during his speech, the next step is for federal agencies to implement these plans – and for Congress to fund them. We must ensure that the solutions promoted actually address the concerns of our core constituents in the Deep South – the people most affected by them.

Image at top: Vice President Kamala Harris applauds as President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address on March 7, 2024. (Credit: Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images)