President Obama took a bold step this past Friday when he announced that his Administration would no longer seek to deport “Dreamers” – young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children by their parents, have been in the US for at least five years, and are law abiding and willing to attend college or serve in the military. The decision has triggered wholly predictable outrage from nativist conservatives, combined with a politically motivated effort by a handful of Republicans to suggest that President Obama’s action would somehow prevent Congress from addressing this issue. The reality is that President Obama’s decision was the right one and that Republicans have stopped Congress from helping Dreamers for years.
President Obama’s new immigration policy will lift the threat of deportation from nearly 1 million Dreamers and is an important step towards making our immigration system fairer, more efficient, and more just. Therefore, it is critical that we all express our support for this step, and share the word about what the new policy is and why it is the right one. Here are some of the details.
What The New Policy Is
The new Dreamers policy is set forth in a memorandum from Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano that calls on immigration officials to use their prosecutorial discretion and not spend limited resources attempting to deport individuals who:
- came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
- are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety; and
- are not above the age of thirty.
Instead of facing the threat of deportation, the approximately one million people who qualify under this new policy will instead be able to apply for a two-year work visa that can be renewed at the end of the two years.
Why The New Policy Is the Right One
The new immigration policy is a matter of basic fairness, and also furthers the interests of our country as a whole. The Dreamers who are covered by this policy are in the US without proper documentation through no fault of their own and are law-abiding people who are contributing to society through obtaining an education, working, and/or serving in the military. There is simply no moral or rational justification for deporting such people.
The policy would also be economically beneficial, as the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that keeping the Dreamers in the US would generate $1.7 billion in additional federal revenue and reduce the deficit by $2.2 billion over 10 years. And by reducing the number of people in the US whose undocumented status enables employers to underpay, the policy could help to place some upward pressure on wages for all Americans.
Why The New Policy Is Legal
Republicans have responded to the Obama Administration announcement by claiming that the policy is somehow illegal and an abuse of Executive authority by the President. For an especially ironic presentation of this argument, see this essay by John Yoo, who infamously found while he was serving in the George W. Bush Administration that the President had the authority to authorize torture of enemy combatants. But the claims by Yoo and other conservatives that President Obama somehow abused his authority ignores the import of the well-establish doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, which provides that the Executive has considerable discretion in deciding exactly how and against whom criminal laws should be enforced. As explained in a letter to the White House from nearly 100 law professors, the law plainly allows this sort of exercise of prosecutorial discretion and Presidents have exercised that discretion in similar situations in the past. Given that it costs the federal government $23,148 to deport each individual, it is perfectly rational for the Administration to decide to focus limited resources on pursuing serious lawbreakers, rather than blameless and law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
The GOP Was Not Going to Act to Help Dreamers
Perhaps the most disingenuous objection from conservatives has been that President Obama should have waited for Congress to act. But the DREAM Act, which would provide Dreamers with permanent residency status, has been floating around Congress for more than a decade and has received majority support in both Houses of Congress on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, it has never become law because Republicans in the Senate have filibustered the legislation a number of times, most recently in December 2010 when it was halted by 41 Republican Senators. The fact that the GOP has been preventing the majority in Congress from passing the DREAM Act for years now completely undermines their argument that President Obama should have waited for Congress to act.
Conservatives also claim that President Obama’s action was not needed because Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was purportedly going to propose a watered-down version of the DREAM Act. But Rubio has been all talk and no action on this issue for months, and still has never submitted an actual legislative proposal.
What is Mitt Romney’s Position on This Issue?
Perhaps realizing the political peril that this issue puts him in, Mitt Romney responded with a vague statement that legislative action should be taken to deal with the Dreamers issue, but not explaining what such action should involve. Previously, however, Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act, which he called a “magnet for illegal immigration,” and announced his support for an approach to undocumented immigrants of “self-deportation,” which involves making life so difficult for immigrants that they will “voluntarily” decide to leave the US. And Romney’s “informal advisor” on immigration issues, the virulently anti-immigration Kris Kobach, has made clear that he would not support even the watered-down version of the DREAM Act that Senator Rubio has discussed. While Romney may try to Etch-a-Sketch his way out of his previous statements about the DREAM Act, his behavior during the Republican primaries makes clear that were Romney to become President, he would be answering to the anti-immigration advocates in his party, not seeking to find ways to help the Dreamers.