Political ploys with immigration
Thursday, June 21, 2012View full version
They should have passed the DREAM Act when they had the chance in 2010. If they had, part of a sensible, constructive and practical immigration policy would be in place. American-educated youth, the product of our investment, people who prepared diligently to be contributing members of society, would be welcome in what is, absent technicality, their home country.
If they had, perhaps the Obama administration could have paused between deportations to work for more thorough immigration reform, or at the minimum come up with a proposal or a plan. Republicans could ignore their xenophobe caucus for a moment and stop feigning outrage that the Obama administration refuses to round up and deport more than a million young people brought here illegally by their parents. These are the children who have grown up among us, who should have the opportunity to become valued Americans.
But the DREAM Act was not passed. The illegal youth remain illegal. On Friday President Obama announced with appropriate election-year drama that the administration would use its prosecutorial discretion and temporarily stop deporting illegal immigrants brought to this country as children, who meet certain age and educational requirements and otherwise remain law-abiding. Republicans naturally reacted by throwing tantrums, shouting amnesty, accusing the president of using selective enforcement of the law as a tool of political pandering. The president’s duty is to execute the law, they said, not in part but in full.
But really, this is a bit comical. The president really said he will continue what was already an unofficial policy — to make deportation of students brought illegally as children a very low priority. The New York Times reported during the DREAM Act debate in 2010 that Department of Homeland Security officials were making litle effort to deport these students. Even those identified as illegal aliens were not detained and their deportations suspended. To the students who openly admitted their illegal status during highly publicized DREAM Act protests, nothing happened. The administration simply said it has more important things to do. “In a world of limited resources, our time is better spent on someone who is here unlawfully and is committing crimes in the neighborhood, as opposed to someone who came to this country as a juvenile and spent the vast majority of their life here,” said John Morton, chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to The New York Times.
Obama announced Friday that he will cease deporting the people he was not deporting. He will give them an opportunity to come forward, register their illegality and receive a two-year deferral of deportation. They will be eligible for deferral if they arrived in the United States before they were 16, have lived in the U.S. for five years, are in school or have graduated from high school, or are honorably discharged military veterans. This deferred status is already available under the law, and had been granted previously on a limited basis by the Obama and Bush administrations. With the deferred status they have the chance to apply for a work permit. This is a short two-year reprieve, granted through prosecutorial discretion all administrations exercise, if not on this scale. It is not a change in the law by executive order. The next president could undo it all. In the meantime, the Obama administration continues deporting other illegal immigrants at a record pace, nearly 400,000 a year, more than double the rate during George W. Bush’s first term.
Election-year frolics with immigration law are one thing, but this is not a drastic change and not policy with any permanence. If we are ever seriously interested in doing something constructive, the DREAM Act should pass and give these people a chance to earn citizenship in their own country, this country.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.