Children brought illegally to the United States by their parents for too long have been caught in the middle of our nation's immigration struggles. While comprehensive policy overhaul is sorely needed, President Obama's temporary measure to stop the deportations of some young immigrants, announced last week, is welcome news.
The administration isn't offering amnesty, but a temporary reprieve for young people who've lived in the country five continuous years or more, attend school or serve in the military and have no criminal record. They will be eligible for two-year work permits, which are renewable.
It's similar to the DREAM Act, which this page supported, but Congress did not pass in 2010. The measure mirrors the spirit of that law but, unfortunately, offers no pathway to citizenship for these young people. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential vice presidential candidate, also floated a plan that called for work visas instead of a road to legal residency for basically the same pool of young immigrants.
Because of the intransigent Congress, seemingly paralyzed by the Tea Party's stranglehold on the GOP, the president made a unilateral decision to accomplish this commonsense measure. But it is not unreasonable for citizens to be unsettled by the power of the presidency to proceed in this single-handed way.
Even so, Obama's administration has hardly been soft on illegal immigration. It has aggressively pursued illegal immigrants, deporting more than 1.2 million of them, compared with the 1.6 million deportations during the eight-year Bush administration. It's also cracked down on businesses that hire illegal workers in place of the chilling workplace raids Bush favored.
The timing of the latest change, five months before November's presidential election, no doubt makes it seem more political than humanitarian, despite an Obama senior adviser's claim on a Sunday morning talk show that "this is not a political move." The Hispanic vote is critical to winning the presidency and both Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are scheduled to speak before Hispanic groups in a few days.
Two-thirds of Latino voters supported Obama in the 2008 election. Their votes are critical in swing states, including Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Their unhappiness with Obama's lack of progress on immigration is no secret.
On the other hand, Romney's harsh rhetoric about illegal immigrants during the GOP primaries and his support of states such as Arizona that have enacted heavy-handed immigration laws have alienated him from Latino voters. He has said he would veto the DREAM Act -- at least the latest version. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is urging the party to soften its approach and step up its outreach to Hispanic voters.
If Obama is not re-elected, the new president would be free to revoke the policy change. The real need is for Congress to find lasting solutions to our country's immigration woes. While the number of people entering the country illegally from Mexico has sharply declined, more than 11 million undocumented immigrants live in limbo in the United States. It's time to develop sensible policies suitable for our times.
Readers, what do you think? To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please fill out this form. Follow us on Twitter @StribOpinion and Facebook at facebook.com/StribOpinion.