Sunday June 24, 2012

Only in a mean-spirited nation would young people, many of them excellent students and solid citizens, be threatened with deportation even though they are guilty of no crimes. Happily, President Obama addressed this disgraceful situation earlier this month by taking as many as 800,000 young immigrants out of the line of fire, but this is only a temporary fix of a significant and complex problem that a Congress paralyzed by politics can’t bring itself to address.

Under the administration’s plan, illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents before they turned 16, are under 30 years of age, have been in the country for at least five years, are high school graduates and have no criminal record will be immune from deportation and can apply for a two-year work permit. This will affect roughly 800,000 young people who have been stuck in a legal limbo, afraid to move forward with college or a full-time job as long as the threat of deportation was hanging over them. As president, Mr. Obama has the authority to act unilaterally on immigration policy but had patiently -- arguably too patiently -- waited for Congress to do the right thing. Finally, he moved ahead.

Two years ago, Congress along familiar party lines rejected the Dream Act, which would have accomplished much of what the president did with his edict. Many once-moderate Republicans who had supported those provisions flip-flopped out of fear of retribution from the immigrant-hating tea party extremists who manipulate Republican officials like so many puppets. Congressional critics angered by the president’s action had their chance to act on immigration and squandered it.

The Dream Act also included a path to citizenship for these young people, which the president’s plan does not. For this reason, Mr. Obama’s action does not constitute "amnesty" for illegal immigrants so matter how long or loudly his critics claim that it does. A path to citizenship must be part of any solution to the illegal immigrant issue in America because roughly 12 million illegal immigrants can’t be deported for reasons both financial and logistical. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who urged the "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants during the primary campaign, brought out the etch-a-sketch Thursday in adopting a new Obama-light immigrant-friendly policy.

It’s not surprising that Hispanics overwhelmingly support the president’s action according to polls. Latinos, however, haven’t voted in proportion to their numbers, and no group that fails to vote its interests at the ballot box deserves any sympathy if elections don’t go their way.

More significantly, 66 percent of independents supported the president’s actions in a Bloomberg survey, as opposed to 26 percent who were opposed. This amounts to a ringing endorsement of basic fairness on the part of a group of voters who will play a significant role in determining the results of the November elections. It also suggests, we hope, that the mean-spiritedness on display in Congress and among tea partiers doesn’t reflect the attitudes of Americans as a whole.