Redeem the dream: Obama takes a bold step on immigration policy

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President Barack Obama says he is giving some 800,000 students and military veterans, generally the children of undocumented immigrants, the opportunity to escape deportation and apply for work permits. Making policy by executive order is not an ideal way to govern, but Congress' politically motivated obstruction of broader immigration reform has left Mr. Obama no better choice.

The president's new policy is the right thing to do. It will enable law-abiding, productive, educated young people to avoid the threat of deportation for two years. It affects only immigrants under the age of 30 who have been in this country for at least five years and were brought here before they were 16. They do not deserve to be punished for actions of their elders over which they had no choice.

The new policy gives Congress more time to pass the Dream Act, a bipartisan proposal that would set a path to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the Armed Forces.

Anti-immigration critics have attached their buzzword of choice -- amnesty -- to the president's order. It is no such thing. It does not confer immunity, citizenship or even a green card.

A future president could reverse the new policy. But in the meantime, it offers a temporary opportunity to drain some of the poison from the immigration debate and to enact comprehensive reform that will enable its beneficiaries to participate fully in American society.

Critics complain that the order demands selective enforcement of immigration law by the Department of Homeland Security. But the government is not going to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

It makes sense to apply law-enforcement resources to expelling the most serious and chronic criminal offenders, security risks and rootless illegal immigrants who came here more recently. Mr. Obama is not the first president to exercise such discretion.

Of course political calculations inform the new policy. Mr. Obama seeks to shore up support among Latino voters and other impatient advocates of immigration reform -- just as other candidates seek to reap political benefit from immigrant-bashing extremism. Predictably, Republican challenger Mitt Romney criticized the president's order. And predictably, he failed to offer a better alternative. Mr. Romney opposes the Dream Act, and emptily proposes that illegal immigrants "self-deport." That leaves Mr. Obama as the one who has shown leadership on this issue.

opinion_editorials

First Published June 22, 2012 12:00 AM


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