The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies.
The policy change, announced Friday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who attend college or join the military.
The plan would allow anyone to stay here if they arrived before they were 16, have been here at least five years, are currently under 30, have no criminal history beyond a low-level misdemeanor are either in students, high school graduates or veterans.
A few points to roll around here. First, while this does bypass Congress, it does so in a way that is legal and constitutional as far as I can tell. The Executive does have some discretion on deportations. This does not put them on a path to citizenship; it merely gives them legal work permits.
Second, I have no doubt this is political. Most things in Washington are and the President knows that Latino voters, who tend to be conservative, can be wooed by this. And the Latino community was frustrated by record-high deportations under Obama. That doesn’t make it a bad policy, per se. As Matt Yglesias pointed out, the Emancipation Proclamation was political too. But let’s not pretend Obama had a moment of truth here. He’s straddling the issue as he always does, for better or for worse.
Third, staying on politics, the proper response of the Republicans would be to applaud the move. It’s no secret that Marco Rubio and other Republicans were crafting a better version of the DREAM Act that would do this exact same thing. There is an opening for them to point that the President did by executive order what could have been accomplished by bipartisan legislation.
Finally, policy: is this is the right thing to do? As Cato points out, these things tend to benefit the economy as we move people out of the shadow economy. These people did not choose to break the law but were brought here. If they are working, schooling and staying out of trouble, I’m frankly glad to have them. I’ll happily swap them out for Americans who aren’t working, schooling or soldiering and have no intention of doing so. This does create incentives for illegal immigrans to bring kids here, which is troubling.
In the end, I would prefer this to come from the legislative side, with a comprehensive overhaul that makes it easier to work here legally and harder to do so illegally. Preferably without money burned on useless fences. And I would like to see a Congressional law supersede this. But Congress has been dicking around with this for going on two decades. Maybe this is the nudge they need to do, you know, their jobs.