Second chance: The president plans a move on immigration reform

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President Barack Obama, whose administration has deported record numbers of people, bears some responsibility for the nation's broken immigration system.

So it's encouraging that, while he grapples with the debt ceiling, gun safety and Cabinet nominations, Mr. Obama is vowing to overhaul U.S. immigration policies, including creation of a path to citizenship for most of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants. His plan may be announced this week.

No one can reasonably argue that the president has been soft on illegal immigrants. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported record numbers of people during his administration -- nearly 410,000 last year alone and 1.2 million in the president's first term. As in the past, many if not most of those who were deported had no criminal records or were convicted of minor offenses such as traffic and immigration-related violations.

The price tag for these policies has been enormous. In 2011, the Obama administration spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, exceeding the sum spent on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

Mr. Obama has so far failed to redeem his pledge for immigration reform. He can, with some justification, blame Republican lawmakers, who twice voted down the DREAM Act.

Last year, the president did the right thing by issuing an executive order that instituted provisions of the DREAM Act. The order allows young people with good records, who were brought here as children without visas and have grown up essentially as Americans, to qualify for application for citizenship.

The time is right for change. An earned path to citizenship would not be a free ride. It could include paying a fine and back taxes, registering with the government, agreeing to learn English and passing a background check.

Providing a legal way for these immigrants to earn citizenship should be the central element of an overhaul of the nation's broken immigration system. Mr. Obama failed to deliver that in his first term. Activists around the country should help make sure he gets it right in his second.

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