President Barack Obama's announcement that his administration will halt deportations and start granting work permits to certain younger illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as young children is a sensible response to a festering national issue. Predictably, no everyone agrees with the decision that could affect as many as 800,000 individuals.
Predictably, the loudest protests about the executive order that establishes the policy came from the far right and from Republican stalwarts. Almost uniformly, those opposed to the decision say it is an unacceptable use of administrative authority, that it circumvents the will and wishes of Congress, that it rewards what remains an illegal act and that it is a blatant political act to win favor with a voting bloc vital to the president's re-election. A closer examination of the new policy suggests that it is hardly as draconian as those opposed to it would have the public believe.
The new rules do not provide blanket amnesty to any group of illegal immigrants as some have charged. It, in fact, strictly limits those covered to individuals whose lives, actions and achievements identify them as highly likely to serve the short- and long-term interests of the nation. That's certainly a fair and useful measuring-stick.
Those covered by the Obama announcement are illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States before they were 16 and who are younger than 30, who have resided in the country for at least five continuous years, who have no criminal history, who have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or who have served in the U.S. military. In other words, those with criminal records, those who have failed to pursue an education and those who are viewed as a threat to public safety or national security need not apply.
Those opposed to the president's decision rail about the manner in which it was made. They say Obama circumvented the will of the people and Congress by taking administrative action, implying that it is a rare use of presidential authority. Not so. Presidents of both parties have taken similar steps in the past. Moreover, Congress has had the chance to act on the issue. It has had the chance to approve a similar plan -- the aptly entitled DREAM Act, but has never mustered the will to do so. And if Congress fails to act on legislation of compelling national interest, a sitting president who has the legal right to address the issue should do so. Obama did just that.
The most shrill of the charges leveled against Obama in the wake of the order about illegal immigrants are political. The timing and content of the announcement, opponents say, are designed to win votes in November, particularly among Hispanics whose votes were important in the 2008 election but whose support for Obama has been flagging recently because of immigration issues. There's probably a bit of truth in those charges, but that does not minimize the importance, the sensibility and the humaneness of Obama's decision.
Indeed, the announced policy was not entirely divisive. Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee, did not roundly condemn it and refrained from saying whether he would or would not repeal it if elected. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, mentioned as a possible Romney running mate and a leading GOP voice on immigration policy, did not criticize the Obama announcement, merely said that it was not a long-term answer to a major problem.
The new policy is a stop-gap in a way. While it ends the possibility of deportation for many law-abiding youngsters and would allow them to work legally in the country, it does neither permanently. Moreover, it does not provide a path to citizenship. Those covered by the ruling still will lead lives of uncertainty.
The way to end such uncertainty is for Congress to approve the DREAM Act. Perhaps Obama's announcement will increase pressure on filibustering Republicans in Congress to do so. Given current political realities, that's extremely unlikely to happen before the November elections. That's unfortunate.
Many young men and women -- illegal immigrants by law, but upright individuals by other measures -- should be allowed to stay in the United States. President Obama's announcement provides a welcome, albeit temporary answer to their dilemma. A more permanent one is desirable.