The president of the United States did something courageous and important Friday for kids who have been raised and educated in this country, but find themselves in legal purgatory.
He announced his administration would focus immigration enforcement "on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education." Focusing investigative and prosecutorial resources on illegal immigrants with criminal records makes good sense.
With his announcement, President Barack Obama acted not only to "lift the shadow of deportation from these young people" but to place immigration front and center as an election issue. It was a risky move, but as Obama said in confronting a rude reporter at his briefing, it was "the right thing to do."
Effective immediately, certain young people under age 30 who were brought illegally to the United States as children and have lived in the country for at least five continuous years will be eligible to request a two-year deferral from deportation proceedings and apply for a work permit if they have no criminal record and are in school, have earned a high school diploma or served in the military.
But, as the president noted, it is only a "temporary stopgap measure." It does not put these kids on a path to citizenship as the DREAM Act, stalled in Congress, would do. All it does is put them into "non-priority enforcement status" for two years.
Nationally, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates the new policy could benefit 700,000 young people 18 to 30 who are currently enrolled in school or have graduated from high school, and 700,000 who are under 18 and enrolled in school.
And while some are griping about Obama's action as "going around Congress," 90 scholars of immigration law pointed out in a May 28 letter to the president that "the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that decisions to initiate or terminate enforcement proceedings fall squarely within the authority of the Executive."
Hiroshi Motomura of the UCLA School of Law, who drafted the letter, told The Bee editorial board on Friday, "Congress will have the ultimate say, if and when a vote on the DREAM Act is taken, so it makes sense to minimize the hardships for these young people in the interim this is indeed the historical role of presidential power in the immigration area, to respond to situations pending congressional decision making."
In what was surely no coincidence, Obama, who is a constitutional scholar, made his announcement on the 30th anniversary of the June 15, 1982, U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a Texas law denying K-12 education to children who had not been legally admitted to the United States (Plyler v. Doe).
The president's action should prod Congress into action. As he said, "There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year."
In acting now, the president has highlighted congressional inaction and honored a campaign pledge. Yes, it was the right thing to do.