The Obama administration kicked off one of the most sweeping changes in immigration policy in decades Wednesday, accepting applications from young illegal immigrants for the temporary right to live and work openly in the United States without fear of deportation.
An estimated 1.7 million young people who arrived in the United States illegally as children could qualify for the new Department of Homeland Security program, and thousands are expected to pay the $465 application fee for a “deferred action” permit that would protect them from deportation for at least two years. [...]
“Even though DA [deferred action] is only a temporary immigration relief initiative, it represents the largest immigration benefit application process since the 1986 immigration reform law,” said [National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities] board member Patricia Montes. [...]
The program is open to immigrants ages 15 to 31 who came to the country before they were 16 and have lived here continuously for at least the past five years. Among other restrictions, they must be free of serious criminal convictions, be enrolled in or have completed high school, or have served in the U.S. military. On Tuesday, officials confirmed that those enrolled in GED programs and certain training programs will also qualify, broadening the program’s potential reach.[...] The protected status has to be renewed every two years.[...]
Opponents and supporters alike agree that the two-year protections are likely to be renewed indefinitely, as has been the case with Haitian refugees and others who have gotten such status. While future administrations may stop granting the protections, they are unlikely to move to deport those already enrolled.
1) This is good news. I wish it were better – I wish Congress had passed The Dream Act, and for that matter I’d like to see some relief for undocumented immigrants other than the very narrow demographic slice targeted here. This isn’t amnesty, and there’s no pathway to citizenship. But this may be the best that can be done in the face of Republican opposition, and it’s good that it got done, and tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of people will be helped.
2) For most of his stay in office, Obama has been trying to court conservatives on immigration. Conservatives always say that once the government gets serious about enforcing current law, then they’ll talk immigration reform. Obama has set records for deportation, even though the unemployment crisis has meant that many fewer immigrants are coming here.
But trying to give in to or compromise with conservatives is pointless, because their best political interests are served by opposition to the Obama administration, not by compromise. It’s the same reason the NRA can’t take “yes” for an answer. And the reason that the huge number of deportations has had absolutely zero impact on the heartfelt conservative belief that the current laws are not being enforced.
But it’s nice to see Obama seemingly realize that compromise won’t happen (at least not with the current GOP), and act accordingly.
3) This is also political, of course. I think that immigration advocates have been pushing harder on the Democrats lately — and, possibly, they have more leverage with an election coming up.
Ezra Klein speculates that this will be good for Obama in the voting booth:
Estimates are that this will apply to almost two million illegal immigrants. And unlike most of what happens in an election year, this policy is actually changing their lives.[...]
These immigrants, of course, can’t vote. But they have friends, family, and are part of communities that can. And those communities, when faced with the choice between the presidential administration that did this, and the Republican Party that they’ve seen in recent years, might come to decide that this is a rather consequential election.
If so, then good; that is how politics are supposed to work.
On the other hand, Nate Silver argued that in the states that are most likely to decide a close Obama/Romney race, Latin@ voters are a relatively small factor. So it may not matter much for this election. But it could matter in the future.
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The photo is by Sitthixay Ditthavong for AP. Their caption:
Some of the thousands of young immigrants who showed up Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, at Chicago’s Navy Pier for guidance with a new federal program that would help them avoid deportation, applaud during speeches by dignitaries. At least 13,000 people showed up for help in putting together identity documents and filling out the detailed forms on the first day that the federal government began accepting applications, which far exceeded what organizers could handle. The crowd was so large that workshop organizers had to turn some of them away.